[Editor’s Note: All you Legacy fans, fear not! The Unlocking Legacy column has been moved to Monday… tune in then for the latest in Legacy development!]
Hello everyone, and welcome back to The Real Deal! For those who have forgotten me, or are turning in for the first time – I’m Ben Bleiweiss, General Manager of StarCityGames.com. I have a weekly column over at MagicTheGathering.com (runs on Wednesday!) devoted to Building on a Budget with Magic Online. On Fridays, I cram in a little time to bring you The Real Deal – my take on the world of Magic, and all that goes on behind the scenes. We’ll discuss a little strategy, talk about what’s going on with the game, and shuffle around some business about the business – what’s going up, and what’s coming down.
Today’s edition of The Real Deal is a send-off to the dearly loved Ravnica block. The world of Ravnica was introduced to us as a ten-by-three – ten guilds over three sets. This block, composed of Ravnica, Guildpact and Dissension, focused on gold and multi-colored cards. Ravnica won the Origins award for best CCG in 2005 – essentially making it the industry’s choice for best product of the year. Ravnica may well have been the most popular Magic block of all time; and as such, I want to give it a fitting send-off in retrospect. So, in tribute to the ten guild of Ravnica, I present to you a look back at Ravnica, using all Top 10 lists!
Top 10 Ravnica-Block Rares
10- Protean Hulk: Without Protean Hulk, there wouldn’t have been a Flash deck. Without the Flash deck, there wouldn’t have been Grand Prix: Columbus. Without spurious logic, there wouldn’t be this line of reasoning. Protean Hulk. King of Grand Prix: Combo.
9- Birds of Paradise: Tried, true, and still the best mana-fixer for a more-than-two color deck in Magic.
8- Leyline of the Void: One of the most important sideboard cards ever printed, this one-of-five-of-a-cycle gave all decks a fighting chance against graveyard-based strategies that dominated. Almost exclusively a sideboard card, Leyline of the Void made enough of an impact in every format (against Yawgmoth’s Will and Dredge in Vintage, Flash decks in Legacy, Dredge decks in Extended and Standard) that it cracked the Top 10 best Rares list in Ravnica on strength of hosing along.
7- Glare of Subdual: Opposition, except for White/Green and not for lands. Glare was an often-overlooked card – and I say this knowing how well it did – that outperformed the amount it was played. Glare decks continually found their way into the Top 8s of important tournaments, yet Glare itself never got the full credit it deserved in a world of good White/Green beatdown creatures.
6- Giant Solifuge: As my friend Evan would say over at the Magic Show, “Cap’n Tickles rules the world!” This guy made the move from sideboard maven to main deck mastermind, frustrating control players for nearly two years. While fragile against creature-based strategies, Giant Solifuge single-handedly would win games when facing down a deck reliant on board control to win.
5- Char: Such a simple card – Psionic Blast for Red. However, in a world where Shock is the next-best instant-speed direct-damage spell for Red, Char is king. Char ended many a game for the Red mage by sending four to the face, at the top of the curve of Shock/Volcanic Hammer/Lightning Helix/Char.
4- Life From the Loam/Golgari Grave-Troll: In-and-of themselves, Life from the Loam and Golgari Grave-Troll are innocuous little cards. However, the dredge effect proved to be extremely potent in every constructed format in Magic. Both made equal splashes in various formats, with Aggro-Loam proving to be a Tier 1 deck in Extended, while various Ichorid decks abused the heck out of Golgari Grave-Troll. Dredge changed the way that people dealt with the graveyard, and these two cards were the backbone of virtually every dredge strategy.
3- Loxodon Hierarch: The child of Ravenous Baloth, Loxodon Hierarch has multiple advantages – you gain life from him immediately (important with Sudden Death looming), he can regenerate the rest of your team, and you can use tricks like Momentary Blink to recur his life-gain effect. Loxodon Hierarch kept mid-range decks viable in Extended and Standard thanks to its huge body and life-swinging effect.
2- Dark Confidant: Created by invitational-winner Bob Maher, Dark Confidant plowed its way through every Constructed format, from Standard to Extended to Legacy to Vintage. A one-sided Howling Mine, Dark Confidant changed both the way decks were built (maximizing the lower end of the curve) and what cards were packed to deal with him (Darkblast). Dark Confidant’s power will be felt for years to come, and likely is the highest end of the curve for a one-sided two-mana Howling Mine.
1- The Shock Lands (Blood Crypt, Breeding Pool, Godless Shrine, Hallowed Fountain, Overgrown Tomb, Sacred Foundry, Steam Vaults, Stomping Ground, Temple Garden, Watery Grave) : Look, it’s a cycle and the cards all functioned identically (give/take the colors the lands produced) so they all share a slot. Live with it. These were the best two-color producing lands printed since Revised (the original Dual lands), and they made Standard a free-for-all of creativity and deck building. They made their way to Extended, and will be the base of that format for nearly a decade to come. These were the cream of the crop of Ravnica block, the chasiest-of-chase rares, and deserve the #1 slot as Best Rare in Ravnica.
Top 10 Ravnica-Block Uncommons
10- Darkblast: Just edging into this list, Darkblast is the dredger’s dream – recursive creature kill that fills your graveyard. Perfect against utility creatures, from Birds of Paradise in Standard to Goblin Welder and Lackey in Eternal Formats.
9- Condemn: Wizards has been searching forever for a Swords to Plowshares replacement, and this is the closest they’ve gotten yet. While it isn’t a be-all-end-all of problem solving, it was good enough to be a huge removal spell against multiple aggressive decks in Standard.
8- Spell Snare: A card that keeps getting better. There is a critical mass of good two-mana spells in Extended right now (Tarmogoyf, Arcbound Ravager, Dark Confidant, Jotun Grunts, Watchwolf, Devastating Dreams, Life from the Loam to name a few), and Spell Snare deals with them all, and early. Given one more Extended season, Spell Snare might have moved up on this list – but on its own merits, it’s still the #8 best Uncommon spell in a block filled with top-notch tournament playable Uncommons.
7- Moldervine Cloak: The best card of its kind ever printed, the Giant-Growth Enchantment. Better than Blanchwood Armor, which dies when the creature dies. Moldervine Cloak allows you to turn even the smallest weenie in your Green army into a 4/4 beater. Once the creature dies? Just dredge the cloak back, and go at your opponent again.
6- Court Hussar: Multiple decks grabbed onto Yotian Soldier-meets-Impulse. The Hussar replaces itself, blocks small guys, pokes for one, and works fantastically with Momentary Blink and Haakon. What more do you want from a three-mana 1/3 guy?
5- Putrefy: One of two twin removal spells that trumped all other single-target spot removal spells in Standard for two years. This is followed by:
4- Mortify: Which gets a slightly better finish on the strength of better Enchantments being around the past two years (Faith’s Fetters, Glare of Subdual, Debtors’ Knell) than artifacts.
3- Watchwolf: One of the most efficient beatdown creatures ever printed, yet so simple and vanilla. Two mana gets you three, and that’s enough to see play extensively in Standard and Extended.
2- Lightning Helix: If this were a Black spell, it’d be a sorcery that costs B4. Thanks to the magic of Ravnica’s gold cards, instead it is the bastard child of Lightning Bolt and Healing Salve. This may very well be the best burn spell printed in the past decade.
1- Remand: Many compared Remand to Time Walk… except better. Time Walk wasn’t a cantrip. Remand keeps your opponent from playing what he wants, when he wants it, and lets you draw a card in the process. There have been some ridiculous Counterspells over the years (including Counterspell itself, Mana Drain and Force of Will), and Remand is good enough to be in on the discussion of the best countermagic of all time.
Top 10 Ravnica-Block Commons
10- Farseek: Ravnica was chock-full of playables at every rarity, but this card was the #1 enabler of the best Rare cards in the block – the Shocklands. Farseek brought many-a-shockland into play tapped, giving the Green mage access to two more colors of mana – something that Rampant Growth could only dream to do.
9- Last Gasp: In a world of Mortify and Putrefy, Last Gasp still found a way to get played. Obsoleted (virtually) by Sudden Death a year into its run, Last Gasp was the premier choice of killing creatures.
8- Silhana Ledgewalker: Is there a true Green mage at heart that didn’t love the little Ascetic that could? Most often a 4/4 guy thanks to the piggyback of Moldervine Cloak (literally), Silhana Ledgewalker was nigh-unkillable outside of mass removal.
7- Seal of Fire: It was here, and then it was here again. Red decks loved them some Seal of Fire over Shock, especially when Black/Red started making its hellbent presence felt in Standard.
6- Stinkweed Imp: Super-Dredge guy #2, behind Golgari Grave-Troll – and unlike the Troll, you aren’t losing if you have to hard-cast him.
5- The Bouncelands: The bouncelands were vulnerable, ironically, to other people’s bounce spells, keeping them from being complete powerhouses. Still, they fixed manabases, let people cheat on their land counts, and made a huge impact on Constructed.
4- Repeal: Boomerang, as a cantrip. The “X” didn’t matter – Repeal was run in every Constructed format, and gave Blue mages a cantrip control suite with Remand that wasn’t seen since Exclude and Repulse in Invasion block.
3- The Signets: What happens when you give every color in Magic a two-drop mana accelerant? The Signets, that’s what. Some were played more than others (Hi Azorius Signet!), but these allowed every deck to run multiple colors, jump from two-to-four mana, and further beyond that as well.
2- Compulsive Research: What’s the best card-drawing spell in Standard? Survey says: Compulsive Research. In a land with a ton of choices, the most Blue of Blue mechanics has a flagship draw spell that helped Urzatron decks rise to the top and keep dominance – not to mention the help it gave to multiple combo decks (Dragonstorm) to find their combo pieces.
1- Faith’s Fetters: Faith’s Fetters dealt with everything – any permanent, every turn, with a swing of four life when it matters most. Faith’s Fetters was good in both aggro and control decks, and all tempos in between.
10 Ravnica Block Cards Most Likely To Be Played In Older Formats
10- Birds of Paradise
9- Life From the Loam
8- Leyline of the Void
7- Loxodon Hierarch
5- Golgari Grave-Troll
4- Lightning Helix
3- Spell Snare
2- Dark Confidant
10 Best Ravnica Guild Mechanics
10- Radiance (Boros) : This was the worst guild mechanic. It let you kill your own guys with your own spells. Boo hiss!
9- Haunt (Orzhov) : Great if you have multiple creatures in play. Not so great against Wrath of God, Damnation, Pyroclasm, or for the fact that most of the guys with Haunt sort of sucked to begin with.
8- Bloodthirst (Gruul) : Scab-Clan Mauler was the only guy with Bloodthirst to see serious play. Bloodthirst had potential, but it wasn’t pushed hard enough.
7- Convoke (Selesnya) : Chord of Calling. Devouring Light. Both were castable without Convoke, but Convoke made them that much better (especially Chord of Calling). Again, underpowered as a whole based on the total pool of Convoke cards out there.
6- Replicate (Izzet) : What more do Blue/Red players want than spells with built-in Fork/Twincast? Replicate shares a common theme with the above mechanics (not pushed hard enough out of concerns of power level), but Gigadrowse (Mana Short on Replicate) and Shattering Spree (kill your affinity/moxes on Replicate!) showed the power of this mechanic.
5- Hellbent (Rakdos) : Much like Bloodthirst, Hellbent wasn’t pushed hard enough. It was pushed harder than Bloodthirst…but most of that was in Planar Chaos! Still, there were some hits here (DEMONFIRE YOU!), so that buoyed Hellbent to a higher slot than Bloodthirst, Haunt, Convoke, Forecast and Replicate. It’s actually kind of surprising to see, in retrospect, how many of Ravnica’s guild mechanics were underpowered by design of cards containing said mechanics.
4- Graft (Simic) : Multiple Graft creatures saw play, from the nigh-untargetable Plaxcaster Frogling, to uber-beater Cytoplast Root-Kin. Several Graft creatures had the power and toughness to duke it out, and the mechanic let your make your later guys bigger as the need arose.
3- Forecast (Azorius) : Another mechanic that wasn’t pushed hard enough. Proclamation of Rebirth spawned an entire deck that finished high at tournaments that counted. That alone made it carry this mechanic to third on this list, which is pretty pathetic. In fact, let’s take a look back at the Top 10 Rares, Uncommons and Commons. Well, what do you know – the only mechanic that shows up is Dredge. How depressing!
2- Transmute (Dimir) : There were two mechanics that worked out well in Ravnica block, and this was one of them. Transmute did exactly what it was supposed to – Diabolic Tutor for cards of a certain mana cost. Clutch of the Undercity (U/B Control), Dimir House Guard (B/W Control), Drift of Phantasms (Heartbeat Combo), Grozoth (Dragonstorm), Muddle the Mixture (Sideboard) and later Tolaria West (Urzatron) were all very solid cards with the Transmute mechanic that, while they weren’t the best of the best, were workhorses and roleplayers in the decks that needed them.
1- Dredge (Golgari) : There is zero doubt that Dredge is the most powerful mechanic to come out of the Ravnica Block guilds. Entire formats have been defined by dredge cards, and dredge decks have been contenders in Vintage, Legacy, Extended, and Standard. The irony here is that, when dredge was first unveiled, Grave-Shell Scarab was heralded as the best of the Dredge cards by many previewests! (It and Plague Boiler were our sixth and third best-selling presale cards, respectively – see here for a Ravnica block blast from the past by yours truly!)
Top 10 Ravnica-Block Cards that Had Potential, But Didn’t Make it
10- Moonlit Bargain: There was controversy around this card, as it was originally spoiled as a four-mana spell, making it the successor to Fact or Fiction. Once it was revealed the card cost five, everyone just abandoned it at the curb. As a five-mana instant-speed draw spell, it deserved better than that.
9- Elves of Deep Shadow: People were so excited when the Elves were reprinted, and then they saw… virtually no play. Llanowar Elves, Boreal Druid, Birds of Paradise, Signets, Rampant Growth, Farseek – all of them helped to make Elves of Deep Shadow just a tertiary mana producer for Green decks that needed Black… but couldn’t play anything else. Would have been great in Lorwyn!
8- Dovescape: Heralded as the soft-lock card to end all soft-lock cards, and ended up as a two-of in third-tier Enduring Ideal combo decks.
7- Glimpse the Unthinkable: The main goal of the Dimir Guild was to mill people, and they were passable that that. Glimpse the Unthinkable essentially hits someone for a fifth of their “life total” (their opening hand and first three turns brings them to fifty cards), and there were plenty of ways to recur Glimpse. Because of Dredge, and the lack of support cards outside of Jester’s Scepter, the mill strategy never caught on, and so Glimpse the Unthinkable was relegated to the binders of casual players everywhere – where it remained a $10 card until rotation.
6- Suppression Field: With so many activated abilities running amok, Suppression Field was heralded as the biggest sideboard card since Pithing Needle. Well, it never quite panned out as such, and Suppression Field is now an oft-forgotten card that was once being hyped harder than Lightning Helix, Putrefy, and Remand.
5- Mark of Eviction: Mark of Eviction might have stood a chance, as it could play both offense and defense… except that it was virtually driven underground by Momentary Blink. It was still a first-pick card in Ravnica-Block draft thanks to all the 187 creatures, but it never made the splash it might have in Constructed.
4- Sunforger: The heir-apparent to Loxodon Warhammer and Umezawa’s Jitte. It gives a creature +4/+0! It lets you get any number of direct damage spells, from Lightning Helix to Char to Shock! For whatever reasons (Boros had better things to do, like beat down), Sunforger never caught on at all.
3- Cerebral Vortex: A card to kill combo players, or a card-drawing card with a minor drawback. Cerebral Vortex seemed like a card that had it all, and even had a deck that it fit straight into (Owling Mine). Unfortunately, Red/Blue never quite came together in that direction, and instead veered into the realm of Urzatron control and Dragonstorm combo.
2- Isperia the Inscrutable: Five mana for a 3/6 flyer that got more creatures – the body alone is huge for the cost. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a deck that really supported that much White and Blue at the same time that needed this as a finisher, so Isperia was largely ignored.
1- Eye of the Storm: Heralded as the combo-enabler of the block, Eye of the Storm ended up being a big, fat fizzle on the landscape. Seven mana was just too much to pay for a spell that needed more spells to make it worth using.
That’s all I got for this week. I hope you all enjoyed the trip down memory lane! When I see you next week, we’ll move forward a year, and I’ll answer the question “What’s wrong with Time Spiral Block?”