Welcome to a globe-spanning metropolis as dangerous as it is exotic, where gleaming skyscrapers tower above a fetid, rotting undercity, where people of a multitude of species rub elbows/thoraxes/pseudopoda, an entire world where no natural land remains.
Welcome… to Coruscant.
No, wait, sorry, I mean Ravnica. Welcome to Ravnica. How embarrassing.
Like the one I wrote about Mirrodin, this article won’t tell you what archetypes to draft. It won’t talk at all about the exciting new Standard format, about Boros Deck Wins or Selesnya Deck Loses. And it’s not going to help you any with the ladies (trust me). No, today we’ve got something different on our plates. It’s time to talk about flavor, world-building, and whose idea it was to give centaurs mullets. Let’s jump in.
Ravnica: City of Guilds is absolutely dripping with flavor, pouring off it in sticky, gooey rivulets. From the colored pinlining on gold cards to the guild symbol watermarks, they did absolutely everything they could to enhance the entire Ravnica experience. In fact, they originally wanted to make the cards themselves flavored-cinnamon for Boros, mint for Selesnya, licorice for Golgari, blackberry for Dimir-but this was shot down when it proved to be both impractical and unsanitary.
In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last few months, Ravnica is a world ruled by ten ancient guilds, kept in relative peace (i.e., a state of quiet rather than open warfare) by a magical piece of paper called the Guildpact. Each guild represents a two-color combination in Magic, and with ten guilds worth of cards to explore, we’d better get going-
What’s that? There’re only cards from four guilds in the set? Well… that’s weird.
Okay, so, four guilds, plus some others, except we don’t care about them right now. Or something. The best place to begin is with a look at the four guilds, starting with the…
Schtick: White’s love of bossing people around meets red’s love of killing people.
Named for: A planet mentioned on one episode of Joss Whedon’s short-lived work of genius, Firefly. I’d tell you which episode, but I wouldn’t want to seem like a nerd or anything.
Symbol: An upraised fist, symbolizing black power
Stated Mission: Keep the peace.
Hidden Agenda: Kill everybody.
Darkest Secret: Red + White = Pink
Style: Fiercely militaristic, frequently on fire
HQ: Sunhome, which, according to the novel, can fly. Just try and wrap your head around what would have happened if they’d tried to represent that on the card.
Signature Ability: Radiance (Whenever you target a creature an opponent controls, accidentally fry three of your own. Whenever you target a creature you control, give your opponent’s attacking double-striker +2/+0. Concede in disgust.)
Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran
Interesting choice to make the legend’s art not focus on him quite as much as-sayyyyy, what in God’s name is that a statue of? It looks… lewd.
An Elemental Berserker! How cool is that?
Okay, I’ll confess, something’s been bothering me. Dealing damage is Red and gaining life is White, so this makes sense… except… look at Ribbons of Night. This card could probably cost 1BB or something. And that weirds me out.
Those wacky Boros. Playing Stratego at a time like this…
The Boros, of course, seem like a fun bunch when compared to those wet blankets in the…
Schtick: White’s love of order meets Green’s love of trees.
Named for: A Russian word meaning “lacking removal.” Honest.
Symbol: Pretty much just the Green and White mana symbols mashed together
Stated Mission: Hug trees, eat gorp, and walk around barefoot in the woods.
Hidden Agenda: Get you to hug trees, eat gorp, and walk around barefoot in the woods, then steal your shoes.
Darkest Secret: Sometimes litter when they think nobody’s looking. Also, the brainwashing.
Style: Land’s End
HQ: Vitu-Ghazi, a giant tree that craps out Saprolings. Who comes up with this stuff?
Signature Ability: Convoke (When you play this spell, if you can’t tell the difference between creatures and lands, really don’t sweat it.)
Point of interest: According to Webter’s, autochthon means “something which is autochthonous.” And now you know.
Oh, very well. Autochthonous means “indigenous; found in the place where it originated.” And now you actually know. My friends have taken to calling this “Indigenous Wurm,” because for some reason they don’t enjoy pronouncing four consonants in a row (even if one of them’s silent and two more form a digraph… babies).
Chord of Calling
“You summoned a giant pastel chicken? I so get to pick next time.”
SPOILER: In the Ravnica novel, one of the major plot points involves taking a magic crystal out of the forehead of an elephant much like this one and giving it to a wolf to keep a vampire from killing a tree. Just try telling someone what you’ve been reading. But then, I guess any fantasy or science fiction novel sounds dumb when you summarize it like that. My dad once saw a TV Guide entry for 2001: A Space Odyssey that read, “Three astronauts have trouble with their computer on the way to Jupiter.” Good one, guys.
“…No, I said hordes. Hordes! …No, I don’t think those thunder.”
So… You tap this creature-clearly depicted as female-and another creature you control-most of which, let’s face it, will be male-and then she makes a little token. And that, boys and girls, is where Saprolings come from.
The other day, I swear to you, I saw two dogs taking themselves for a walk. Just trotting down the sidewalk on a clearly predetermined course, no leash or master in sight. It didn’t make me think of Watchwolf… but maybe it should have.
On the other side of the green coin, tails to Selesnya’s heads, yin to their yang, Shredder to their Splinter, there’s the…
Golgari Happy Fun-Time Bunch
Schtick: Green’s love of nature meets Black’s love of zombies.
Named for: Their favorite pastime of recreational gargling
Symbol: Like the “Recycle” logo, but evil
Stated Mission: Kill people and enslave their rotting corpses.
Hidden Agenda: If that’s your stated goal, what have you got to hide?
Darkest Secret: Actually pretty nice guys, once you get to know them
Style: Fetid, rotting, covered in bugs
HQ: A festering pile of syllables that occasionally gets bored and wanders off. In Ravnica, home runs away from you!
Signature Ability: Dredge (Don’t worry, those were crappy cards anyway. Oh, except that one… ouch.)
Boy, am I ever glad they used an adjective to differentiate this from all those other Groodions running around. This one drools a lot. And now we can look forward to a future filled with Groodions with other hygienic ailments, like Itchy Groodion and Groodion Belcher.
Man’s best fungus… and yet it’s a Hound. Why on earth would they pass up the chance to make Magic’s first Fungus Hound? And how does the Hound creature type fit into their plan to consolidate creature types, anyway? If Lions are Cats and Falcons are Birds, shouldn’t Hounds be Dogs? Hmmmmm?
This isn’t the first time an understanding of genetics has been referenced on a card (look at Flametongue Kavu and Ironclaw Orcs), but it is the most direct. And that, to my mind, is terribly interesting. But then, you’re dealing with a guy who analyzed the ecology of Mirrodin and tried to figure out if the various volumes of the Sarpadian Empires were organized topically or chronologically. So, you know, just an average Joe. [I bet you tell all the girls that. – Knut, filling in the sound of crickets chirping]
Meanwhile, just as evil but perhaps slightly more subtle (and much less rotting), there’s…
Schtick: Black’s manipulative selfishness meets Blue’s selfish manipulativeness.
Named for: Preferred lighting conditions + Slavic-sounding ending
Symbol: The Eye of Mordor + the sigil of Lolth, Queen of Spiders (evil, ya dig?)
Stated Mission: –
Hidden Agenda: –
Really Hidden Agenda: So secret they’re not exactly sure about it themselves
Darkest Secret: Evil agenda, mere fact of existence
Style: Goth; souls filled with blackness
HQ: Duskmantle, House of Shadow. Weekly raves best described as “killer.” DJ Circu lays the beats.
Signature Ability: Transmute (cardwithsameconvertedmanacostcycling)
Consult the Necrosages
So the organization of the entire guild is basically a game of telephone? Oh man, I can see it now… “Don’t lick weasel darkly… pass it on.”
Just wanted to say that the Ravnica Release Event promo version of this is the most beautiful card I have ever seen in my life. I long to possess it in a way that consumes my soul and yet, somehow, doesn’t quite make me willing to spend money on it. But kill for one? Oh my, yes.
Dimir House Guard
I think I fought them in a Zelda game once.
“…And, you know, millions of Magic players. Crap.” Seriously, this whole thing about the Dimir being a secret and not existing was totally ruined by putting them in the first set. Because you start reading all the flavor text about how they don’t exist after you’ve already seen a dozen cards called Dimir Something Or Other, and you’re just not fooled.
Glimpse the Unthinkable
“…I’m not kidding around here. If you knew half of what we’re were up to, it would blow your mind. Seriously.”
I didn’t really understand this card until I read the artist credit: Cyril Van Der Haegan. Do they honestly expect us to believe there is any such person? It’s a blatant pseudonym, like Claymore J. Flapdoodle and Rebecca Guay. I’ll let you in on a little secret: This entire card is a joke. 9 mana, defender, transmute… suddenly, it all makes sense.
Ribbons of Night
“Uh… Check, please.” Seriously, that sounds like the most awkward date ever.
There wasn’t really a good place to put this, so I guess now’s as good a time as any for a quick rant about…
They look cool and they have really interesting implications. They can act like monocolored cards in a deck that’s only playing one of their colors, or they can act as “mono-guild” cards in a deck that’s playing both. I really like them-all twelve of them. C’mon, would it have killed you to make two uncommons and/or two commons of each color? Throw us a frickin’ bone here! They do tend to sneak into mono-colored piles, though. My suggestion is to reverse the pinlining between the text box and the border, so that you’ve got a green border with a white pinline and a white border with a green pinline, or whatever. I actually did a mock-up on MS Paint that looked pretty good, and that was on freakin’ MS Paint. But will they listen? No, probably not. Unless they do.
Anyway, let’s keep moving with a look at a bunch of…
“Okay, Billy, show me on the doll where the Aura touched you…”
Dude, if the guy on the other side of the field was riding a flying lion, swinging a sword around blindfolded, and on fire, I don’t think I’d attack, either. Just sayin’.
Breath of Fury
Here, have a mint.
How come this is a Zombie Wolf, but Woodwraith Strangler and the like are Plant Zombies? How do they decide what order to put creature types in, beyond the simple race/class thing? It’s not alphabetical… so… what is it? This demands further study. Because I know it was bugging you.
“…They are, however, delicious.”
Have you really looked at the art for this? That thing doesn’t look… natural.
He’s making that face because the cost of greatness turned out to be consorting with a giant evil potato. Kind of embarrassing.
“…The Gruul warrior, apparently, wasn’t looking.” Well, that, or he’s the one who exploded. Also note that this card’s name represents perhaps the only intersection between oratory and demolitions.
Fists of Ironwood
Huzzah for the return of Saprolings! They were always my favorite 1/1 green token. Insects are okay, but I really never understood the fascination with squirrels. Anyone who has dealt with squirrels in real life knows that they are devious, cunning, ruthless, and ultimately unstoppable. And they have hands. One day they’ll kill us all… of course, maybe that’s the appeal.
I was arguing with a friend about whether this was any good. Then it turned out that he thought it only cost W. Yeah, I won that argument.
Holy crap! That goblin has a Molotov cocktail! And suddenly, I like the card.
Let’s be honest here. If you could make a giant zombie with wrecking balls for arms… wouldn’t you?
I just want to note that this is probably the first Magic flavor text that can be sung to the tune of a song from Les MiserablÃ©s.
One man’s trash is another man’s… troller? What does that even mean?
You have my permission to gasp theatrically every time you play this card, or have it played against you. You emphatically do not have my permission, however, to gasp theatrically when you’re looking over my shoulder and I draw it. You know who you are.
Loxodon Gatekeeper / Vedalken Dismisser / Vedalken Entrancer
So how exactly do we feel about having Vedalken and Loxodon in this set, seemingly at random? I’m fine with it, since all life on Mirrodin was supposed to be imported anyway. Presumably this is where Memnarch acquired some of Mirrodin’s future residents, but I guess he must have made a quick stop on the way home to pick up some cat people. And Slith. What the hell are Slith, anyway?
You ever see that show, Gargoyles? Oh, come on… Johnathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis did voices for it. No, they’re… they’re from TNG. Uh, Star Trek: The Next Generation, sorry. The… the one with the, uh, “bald guy,” yeah. Oh. Never mind then.
What about Captain Simian and the Space Monkeys? Johnathan Frakes voiced that one, too. Or ExoSquad? Now that was a fantastic show. I wish it were out on DVD. Huh? The card? Oh, go to hell.
(We apologize for the momentary digression, and assure you that things are back on track now.)
“We were in the nick of time. You were in great peril!”
“I don’t think I was.”
“Yes, you were! You were in terrible peril!”
“Look, let me go back in there and face the peril!”
“No! It’s too perilous!”
I’m thinking about starting a petition to keep them from using the word “creature” in flavor text. It just rings false. “Land” and “artifact” will be allowed occasionally; puns will be forbidden. ‘Cause seriously.
“Alas, poor Yorrick! I knew him, Horatio: A fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent-Oh, terribly sorry, I thought this was a base set.”
I was talking about banning puns? Yeah, this is why. Gawd.
The Mana Flashlight has already inflicted more than a few points of mana burn in my playgroup. I desperately want to run it in Two-Headed Giant, too. A friend of mine points out that it’s just like the flashlight lasers from Larry Niven’s Ringworld books: Set it to widebeam to harmlessly light your way, or focus it tight to set people on fire. So you see, I’m not the nerdiest person I know. Because although I knew exactly what he was talking about, I at least didn’t actually think of it. Nor did I for a moment suggest that, like the flashlight lasers, it might not work if the color of the beam matched the color of the target’s clothing. ‘Cause that’d be really nerdy.
“Put a spear in a peasant’s hands, and you have an expendable troop. Put a purpose in his heart, and you win a warrior. Light him on fire, and he’ll no longer tap to attack.”
(Yeah, I know, that’s not from this set. But I didn’t do one of these for Champions, and I really wanted to use that one. If it helps, you have my permission to pretend I got the spoilers mixed up somehow, or briefly traveled through time.)
Rumor has it that the bludgers and quaffles will appear in Guildpact and Dissension, respectively.
And that about wraps up our fun little journey through a forbidding world of ecological ruin and political machinations. Don’t forget to have your parking validated.
In all seriousness, I love the set, I love the world, I love the fact that Michael Dorn voiced the trailer… I am, in fact, utterly blown away by Ravnica, so blown away that I had to make fun of it a bit just to put things in perspective. Kudos to design, development, and pretty much everybody at Wizards. Except for those jerks who make DuelMasters. Man, I hate that game.
‘Til next time, don’t let the flaming angels, fungus babies, plant zombies, or shadowy vampire lords get you down.
(Can you break my clever code?)