November 21, 2012

Revisiting Ravnica

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Written by: Scott Harris
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Welcome to BBD labs where the future is being gamed today!

Last month, Wizards of the Coast released their latest expansion block, Return to Ravnica, which as the title suggests, returns fans to the world of the 2005 Ravinca block. And since it’s more than possible that many people don’t remember what Magic cards they were playing with seven minutes ago much less seven years ago, we thought we’d take a look at the new Return to Ravinca set for you to give you an idea of what to expect.

First, the concept behind Ravinca is pretty simple: Multi-color. In story terms, Ravnica is a city where there are ten guilds, which represent each of the possible two-color combinations in Magic. So each guild gets a bunch of gold multi-color cards as well as complimentary card themes (overlapping tribes, etc.) and cards that can be cast with either color.

As always, of course, Wizards of the Coast has also released a series of Intro Packs to familiarize new players with the set, showcasing themes, mechanics, color combinations and cool cards in pre-made, ready to play decks.

But do these decks give an accurate representation of what Ravinca is like? And are they, in fact, playable?

To test this, we decided to play some round robin matches using three of the Intro Packs: Izzet Ingenuity (red-blue), Golgari Growth (black-green) and Selesnaya Surge (white-green).

Each of these decks also has a theme: Golgari Growth makes creatures bigger by sacrificing creatures from the graveyard to put counter on living creatures through the Scavenge mechanic; Selesnaya Surge creates token creatures and then copies them using the Populate mechanic; and Izzet Ingenuity revolves around combos involving casting instants and sorceries, optionally buffed through the Overload mechanic.

So how do these decks actually work in action?

Well, it became pretty clear in our playtesting that the white-green Selesnaya Surge deck was the best. That’s not to say that it is the most powerful, but it is the most consistent. That has to do simply with what the decks are trying to accomplish.
Golgari Growth relies on having dead creatures in your graveyard to Scavenge as well as having both live creatures for the counters to land on and mana available to use the ability. In other words, it takes a while to get going and if you are missing any one of those three components, it’s not going to reach full potential.

Izzet Ingenuity, on the other hand, is a bit of a mish-mash. There is a combo you can theoretically pull off using a goblin that lowers the casting cost of instants and sorceries and a second that does 2 damage to all enemies for every instant or sorcery you cast. Plus there are other complimentary cards, such as one that allows you to cast sorceries as instants, as well as the Overload feature, which allows you to spend extra mana to make the effect global rather than targeted. All of this is fine, but as there are only one or two of each of these key combo cards in the deck, drawing one or all of them is hardly assured. Plus, you are reliant on getting those instants and sorceries, which again, come in limited quantities. If you can get lucky and draw the right cards, you’re fine, but otherwise, good luck.

Now, some of the inherent flaws of both decks are simply due to the fact that they are pre-mades, designed for beginners, so they aren’t filled with four copies each of a bunch of rares and mythics like serious tournament decks.

But this is where the simplicity of Selesnaya Surge allows it to shine. Its theme is simple: It wants to cast creatures or create creature tokens and then Populate to make more. But even if you don’t draw your populate cards, you can still win just by casting and creating creatures. And since Populate is a secondary key word on cards with other functions — like creatures or spot removal — even if you draw your Populate cards without targets for them, you can still cast them to good effect.

In other words, no matter which random cards you draw, it’s going to be gas because you will end up with creatures either way, while your opponents using other Intro Decks will still be hoping to complete their theme combos.

In the end, the Intro decks we tested did give a decent feel for the multi-color mechanics. They were less successful imparting the flavor of the set; while the original Ravnica had a strong urban city feel, playing these seemed just like playing generic multi-colored decks.

It should also be noted that each Intro Deck comes with two Return to Ravinca booster packs. We played both with and without these packs, and both Izzet and Golgari were notably improved with the addition of cards from those decks, as it allowed for more streamlining and greater consistency. On the flip side, Selesnaya didn’t receive as much help, because for that deck it was a matter of just getting more cards to help what it was already doing well.

If you like multi-color cards and sets, then the Return to Ravnica block should hold your attention. If not, well, it will likely be a very long two years for you until this set rotates out. This first set is a decent start, but more attention to flavor could make it a richer playing experience.

Products mentioned in this article:
MTG Magic Return to Ravnica RTR Intro Pack Deck Golgari Growth Black Green

Magic the Gathering RTR: MTG: Return to Ravnica Intro Pack: Selesnya Surge Theme Deck (Includes 2 Booster Packs)

Magic the Gathering RTR: MTG: Return to Ravnica Intro Pack: Izzet Ingenuity Theme Deck (Includes 2 Booster Packs)

About the Author

Scott Harris



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