With Return to Ravnica on the horizon, and many cards from the set already previewed, it’s about time to start thinking about applications for the new cards in Limited. The cards and mechanics in Return to Ravnica are split up into two-color guilds exactly like Ravnica block. This is a very unique set to analyze because this is the first time that Magic has ever really returned to a previous block without changing the underlying structure of the original block.
The ten guilds of Ravnica block are split up into two sets of five guilds this time around. Return to Ravnica will host the first five guilds, and the next set, Gatecrash, will host the other five. Since the guilds are ultimately the same guilds as in Ravnica block, it might be very helpful to begin analyzing the new set mechanics by turning back the clock seven years and looking at what we know about Ravnica block.
If you played Magic seven years ago when we ventured to Ravnica the first time, I hope this article will bring back memories and be a helpful review of the guilds the first time we saw them. If you were not playing Magic then and are new to the world of Ravnica, then I hope you will learn a thing or two about what the guilds were like back then, and what we can expect when drafting the guilds in Return to Ravnica.
When the Azorius guild first made its debut in Dissension, it used the forecast mechanic as a method of gaining incremental card advantage. Unfortunately for Azorius, most of the forecast cards were pretty underpowered.
Since you can only use the forecast ability during your upkeep, this forces you to make your forecast decisions before you draw your card for the turn. In Limited games, this is a pretty big drawback since very few of the forecast abilities are powerful in the first place.
For instance, imagine you are holding Paladin of Prahv during your upkeep with Azorius First-Wing in play facing an empty board. If you don’t yet have another play for the turn, you have the option of paying two mana to gain two life without costing you a card. The conflict arises when you have to balance the probability of drawing a relevant play during your drawstep against the potential gain that two life would give you. In many ways this is a positive thing since it adds more decisions and can reward a player for making the right play. However the majority of the forecast abilities were pretty small effects, and since you must factor in the potential cost of missing out on a better line of play, the value often just wasn’t there.
Another issue with the forecast mechanic was that it had abilities that rewarded a player for playing a more aggressive game. This wouldn’t normally be a problem except that the forecast mechanic is inherently better the longer the game goes on. Since you will have more chances to use the “once per turn” ability if there are more turns in the game, it would make sense if the abilities helped you to extend the game while playing a more controlling role. Sadly this isn’t the case.
A card like Plumes of Peace allows you to tap an opposing creature during your upkeep—which only stops the creature from blocking. Unless you actually cast Plumes of Peace, it won’t do anything to keep the creature from just attacking you. Most of the other forecast cards in Dissension such as Steeling Stance and Writ of Passage have effects just like this that are nearly useless when trying to play a defensive role.
In Return to Ravnica, the Azorius guild has a whole new ability at its disposal: detain. When a permanent is detained, it can’t attack, block, or use any activated abilities until the beginning of your next turn. Since detain shuts down a permanent for an entire turn cycle, you can use it offensively or defensively in any situation. When an opposing creature is detained, it won’t be able to block the turn it was detained or attack during your opponent’s next turn. This alone makes it a lot more versatile than forecast ever was.
Just like forecast, detain can only be used on your own turn. Detain does have a big advantage over forecast in that it allows you much more complete information when using the ability. Since you can cast a card that uses detain during your main phase, not only have you seen an extra card, but you also have the added advantage of being able to play a land and cast other spells before you use the effect.
Detain seems like it will be a much stronger mechanic for Limited than forecast ever was. Forecast gives you minor (and generally more aggressive) effects that have the advantage of not costing you the use of a card. Although this is a sort of card advantage, it is very limited in its applications. Detain is a much more versatile effect that is less likely to be useless at any point in the game. I was never a huge fan of the Azorius Guild in Ravnica/Guildpact/Dissension (RGD) draft, and my general dislike of forecast was definitely a reason for that. Detain adds a new dimension to the Azorius guild in Return to Ravnica that I very much look forward to trying out.
In RGD limited, Izzet was definitely one of the most powerful guilds. This was largely due to the presence of Steamcore Weird and Ogre Savant, which were two of the strongest commons in Guildpact, and an important reason to be in UR. The Izzet guild has a strong affinity for instants and sorceries, which explains why replicate was the Izzet mechanic in the original Ravnica block.
Because of the flexibility that replicate offers, it was a very strong Limited mechanic. In the early turns of the game you could use a replicate spell for a marginal effect, and later in the game when you had access to more mana, you could cast the spell for a much greater effect.
Train of Thought is a great example of the replicate mechanic, and was always one of my favorite cards to draft in RGD. Paying six mana to draw three cards was a common play with Train of Thought. Drawing any more than three cards with a single Train of Thought is obviously very good, and the ability to cycle this spell for two mana when digging for lands is another application that shouldn’t be overlooked. No single way to play this card is better than other ways, and thus it really is the flexibility that makes it great.
Overload is the newest Izzet mechanic in Return to Ravnica, and it plays very similarly to replicate. If you pay the overload cost of a spell instead of its regular casting cost, the spell will affect anything on board that it can target.
Cards with overload essentially have two modes: targeting one or targeting all. There is no in-between with overload like there is with replicate. Although these are both flexible mechanics, overload is narrower. What overload lacks in flexibility, however, it makes up for in sheer power. Mizzium Mortars is extremely strong. For its normal casting cost it is a decent spot-removal spell, but for its overload cost it is a one-sided sweeper. This type of effect is at a power level that isn’t really seen on the replicate cards.
In Return to Ravnica, the Izzet guild seems to be just as focused on instants and sorceries as it was in Guildpact. If the Izzet preview cards are any indication, this guild might even be just as strong as it was before too. Overload may be similar to replicate, but it seems like an overall much stronger mechanic for both Limited and Constructed. One thing to keep in mind is that out of the four cards with overload that have been previewed thus far, three are rare and one is uncommon. The common overload cards won’t be nearly as powerful of course, but I’d be willing to bet that most of them will still be very good.
The Golgari guild is the one guild that is heavily focused on the graveyard. In fact it is so heavily focused on the graveyard that this guild is responsible for the most degenerate graveyard mechanic of all time: dredge.
Instead of explaining what dredge does, let’s just look at the one card with dredge that’s on the Modern banned list: Golgari Grave-Troll.
The only reason this card is banned is because of its dredge 6 ability. As it turns out, putting cards from your library into your graveyard doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. In Constructed, the ability to do this quickly and cheaply can lead to some pretty ridiculous shenanigans. Even though Golgari Grave-Troll is on the Modern banned list, he’s really just one of the many victims of the dredge mechanic. In Constructed, he’s rarely played as a creature and instead is just used for that single, uninteractive ability!
When looked at as a complete card, he really sort of captures what the Golgari guild is about. When you first put the troll into play, his size reflects the size of your graveyard (or more specifically the creature portion of your graveyard). When Golgari Grave-Troll himself goes to the graveyard, he can come back the very next turn even bigger than before. In Ravnica, the Golgari Guild was great at doing all these things: getting cards into the graveyard, using the cards that are in the graveyard, and recurring cards from the graveyard.
Not only is dredge very good in certain Constructed decks, but it is also a very good Limited mechanic as well. Having a creature that you can bring back to your hand every turn is crushing. Since you have to skip your draw to bring back a dredge card, you are essentially choosing to “draw” the dredge card instead of drawing a random card in your deck. If the card you are dredging is better than an average card in your deck (which in Limited is not unlikely), then on a pure card-quality standpoint, it is a good idea to dredge back the creature whenever you can. Of course in reality there are many other factors to take into consideration when deciding whether to dredge or not to dredge. But even so, the added options you get by having good dredge cards in your graveyard will usually increase your general card quality a decent amount over the course of a game.
The new Golgari guild mechanic in Return to Ravnica is scavenge. Although scavenge is not quite the Constructed powerhouse that dredge turned out to be, it seems like another very strong Limited mechanic. I also find scavenge to be just as flavorful as dredge, and it fits the Golgari guild very nicely as well.
I understand that the ability to pump up a creature doesn’t really seem like anything to write home about, and I’m not sure I would be too excited to pay more for a creature just so it would have scavenge. Fortunately, these scavenge creatures are far from overcosted.
For instance, Dreg Mangler is a 3/3 with haste for only three mana. Those stats right there are plenty good enough for most Limited decks, and the scavenge ability is really just icing on the cake. In Limited, adding +1/+1 counters to your creature is far from irrelevant, since so many games are decided on the back of creature wars. In many situations, a trio of +1/+1 counters from Dreg Mangler will cause your opponent to either use multiple resources on your one large creature, or trade a much better creature for yours. I can already picture many Limited games being won by scavenging one creature onto another scavenge creature, only to do it again when that one is finally dealt with.
Scavenge has a lot of the same flavor as dredge and seems likely to be a great Limited mechanic. I really feel like they found a sweet spot here in creating a Golgari graveyard mechanic that is strong and interactive yet doesn’t have the potential to be abused in the way that dredge was.
When I think of the Rakdos guild, I think of suicide aggro. In other words, Rakdos is willing to throw away resources in order to win the game as quickly as possible. In Dissension, the guild mechanic hellbent captured this feeling perfectly.
The sooner you empty out your hand, the better your cards will be. In Dissension there were many cards to help you with this such as Jagged Poppet and Avatar of Discord, for example. Both of these cards help enable hellbent, while also functioning perfectly to fit in with the general Rakdos theme of suicide aggro. These are cheap and efficient creatures that will help you win a game quickly, but that also cost you resources (in this case, cards in hand).
In RGD Limited, hellbent was a really interesting mechanic that rewarded certain aspects of gameplay that we may sometimes take for granted. When you are forced to build your deck in such a way as to enable your hellbent cards, mana curve and mana efficiency are both more important than ever.
Hellbent also brought up some very interesting game interactions. For instance, after hellbent cards were printed in Dissension, cards like Repeal and Peel from Reality got some added value, simply because of the potential to disrupt someone’s hellbent mid-combat by bouncing a different permanent. It’s a lot of fun when a mechanic changes the way games are played and the way certain cards interact.
Unleash is the new Rakdos guild mechanic, and sadly I don’t think it will be able to live up to it’s predecessor, hellbent. Creatures with unleash give you the option of adding a +1/+1 counter to them when they come into play. If you choose to do that, the creature can no longer block. It’s easy to see how unleash fits into the aggressive tendencies of the Rakdos guild, but it’s hard to see how it adds anything too exciting to gameplay.
To be honest I was never really a huge fan of drafting the aggressive hellbent-type decks in RGD. Even though I didn’t care to play much with hellbent myself, I can still respect the mechanic and the play that it added. The main problem with unleash is that once the unleash creature comes into play and the choice is made whether or not to add a counter, that’s it. There is no fluidity in the ability like there was in hellbent. Both players are 100% aware of the game state, nothing about the ability will change, and “can’t block” isn’t exactly a new drawback that we need to assess.
Even though I wish the new mechanic was something a little more new and exciting like hellbent, I’m sure I’ll still enjoy playing with unleash. Even though it doesn’t fit the theme of suicide aggro as much as hellbent does, it definitely allows you to play games more aggressively. In a certain way, unleash also rewards you for playing more unleash creatures, since you can then draft a hyper-aggressive deck that will never want to block anyway. My first impression of unleash is that of slight disappointment, but I’m still excited to try it out in the context of Return to Ravnica and see if that opinion changes with time.
I have some very fond memories of the Selesnya guild, and it used to be one of my favorite guilds to draft back in RRR and even RRG. In fact my first ever PTQ win was on the back of Selesnya—I opened Glare of Subdual in my Sealed deck (the actual best Limited card in Ravnica), and I drafted a sweet GWb deck in the Top 8.
Selesnya is the token guild, and the majority of the cards in this guild somehow interact with tokens. The Selesnya guild mechanic from Ravnica is convoke, which let’s you tap your own creatures when you cast a convoke spell to reduce the cost. Even though this doesn’t directly interact with tokens, it benefits from tokens that are already in play since you can use them to play your expensive convoke spells earlier than you’d be able to otherwise.
Since convoke allows you to tap any creature (not just tokens) to reduce the cost, draft archetypes outside of Selesnya could put the convoke cards to good use. However if you were able to draft a good GW deck that could spit out multiple tokens in the first few turns, you could often play a fatty such as Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi very early in the game. In this way, convoke incentivized players to draft GW anyway because it had all the cards that made convoke good.
The traditional Selesnya token is the 1/1 Saproling token, and Ravnica was full of cards that pumped out Saprolings. The best Saproling engine in Ravnica Limited was definitely Selesnya Evangel. One Selesnya Evangel could take over the game with a small army of tokens, but if you got more than one of these on token duty, that’s when things really got out of hand. Of course the more packs of Ravnica that were being drafted, the better it was for the Selesnya mage. In RRR draft, it wasn’t unheard of to get three or four Selesnya Evangels and just run your opponents over with a swarm of Saprolings, even if you didn’t draw any fatties to convoke into play.
The Selesnya mechanic in Return to Ravnica has a lot more to do with tokens. The new mechanic is called populate, and unlike convoke it doesn’t work without a token already in play. When a spell or ability tells you to populate, that means that you copy any one creature token that you already have in play. So if you have no tokens, populate doesn’t do anything. If you have multiple tokens, you can only pick one to copy.
Since traditionally Selesnya is the guild that has the most token producers, I believe that populate will be an extremely powerful mechanic. This is especially true since they will usually be able to scoop up the vast majority of the populate cards. Other guilds won’t be able to make tokens as readily as the Selesnya drafters will, so the other drafters are much less likely to take any populate cards. When drafting other guilds, you will most likely be sharing some your best cards in a draft with people who aren’t even drafting that guild. Mono-colored cards with a guild mechanic can often be played in other color combinations to good use. Since populate will be a lot less useful outside of Selesnya, it will be interesting to see how that affects drafting strategies.
Convoke and populate both get better with more token producers, however convoke can be used with any creatures, while populate is strictly for tokens. Even if the populate cards are powerful cards, there will be fewer people at a draft table who will be able to use them effectively. This opens up the potential for some really nutty token decks in Return to Ravnica draft.
Most people who have drafted Ravnica Block will tell you it is one of the best draft formats of all time. From what I’ve seen thus far, Return to Ravnica looks like it will be just as amazing. There is an incredible amount of hype surrounding the release of Return to Ravnica; but even with all the hype, I have a strong feeling we won’t be let down.
Thanks for reading,
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