Welcome to the first part of my Return to Ravnica set review. It’s actually a bit earlier than I anticipated, thanks (or no thanks) to some timely spoilers, but here we are. I’ll be starting with all the white cards today, after which I’ll be looking at Azorius cards, then blue, then another guild, and so on. It won’t actually be 10 separate parts, but I’m kicking things off with white.
As usual, the ratings are as follows:
2.0: Niche card. Sideboard or currently unknown archetype. Naturalize. (Bear in mind that many cards fall into this category, although explanation of why is obviously important.)
1.0 It has seen play once. One with Nothing. (I believe it was tech vs Owling Mine, although fairly suspicious tech at that.)
5.0: I will always play this card. Period.
4.5: I will almost always play this card, regardless of what else I get.
4.0: I will strongly consider playing this as the only card of its color.
3.5: I feel a strong pull into this card's color.
3.0: This card makes me want to play this color. (Given that I'm playing that color, I will play this card 100% of the time.)
2.5: Several cards of this power level start to pull me into this color. If playing that color, I essentially always play these. (Given that I'm playing that color, I will play this card 90% of the time.)
2.0: If I'm playing this color, I usually play these. (70%)
1.5: This card will make the cut into the main deck about half the times I play this color. (50%)
1.0: I feel bad when this card is in my main deck. (30%)
0.5: There are situations where I might sideboard this into my deck, but I'll never start it. (10%)
0.0: I will never put this card into my deck (main deck or after sideboarding). (0%)
As usual, I caution you to both look at the rating and read the comments, since even cards rated the same might have very different evaluations. Enjoy!
Angel of Serenity
Talk about starting off with a bang! This is quite the card. First off, it’s like a triple Faceless Butcher. You play it, eat three of their guys, and start bashing them with a giant 5/6. If that was it, it would still be a good card, but there is much more.
Imagine this scenario: you play an Angel, exiling their board. They then kill the Angel, bringing it back. You follow that up by playing a second Angel, this time exiling their two best guys plus your first Angel. Now, if they kill that Angel, you get the first one back, and the loop is established. Eventually, they run out of removal spells, and the Angels reign supreme.
It is a 7-drop, but it rewards you so heavily for playing multiples that I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a solid 3 or 4-of in all sorts of decks—from straight up control to midrange creature decks.
I guess our break from Titans didn’t last long, eh? Unless Ravnica is of Zendikar-level speed, I can’t imagine that this is anything less than a giant bomb. Any permutation of exiling their guys and your guys is going to be favorable, and the further ahead you are, the more of your own cards you are going to want to exile.
Right out the gates, I can tell that this isn’t going to be a good guard in Constructed.
If you need a 2/5, you need a 2/5—but don’t get excited about it. He is marginally better with a few gates in your deck, but in no way are they necessary, or even a reason to play this when you otherwise wouldn’t.
You’d think getting arrested would be more serious than getting sent to detention, but you would be wrong. Just pony up the extra blue mana and get a real card for your troubles.
Arrest is still one of the best white removal spells we’ve seen, and I don’t anticipate that being different in Return to Ravnica. It’s even splashable!
No, you are supposed to kill them before they hit you. As Constructed-caliber removal, this certainly misses the mark.
If you’ve gotta kill something, this does the job, but is never all that exciting. You can block whatever you are planning on killing, either with your worst creature or with your face, though it also works after attacks. Again, it isn’t going to ever be awesome, but it does kill just about anything, albeit with a little sacrifice first.
While you might be able to arrest their development for a little while, this is not a long-term solution to anything. Buying you a turn of no attacks or blocks is cute, but getting a 2/1 at the end of things doesn’t seem quite worth the investment. Still, curving out with detain guys might be a reasonable plan, whereby you just delay, delay, delay until they die.
As a 2-drop, this isn’t going to actually make use of its authority a good portion of the time. That’s fine, since a 2-drop that’s a decent play early and actually relevant late is never a bad thing to have. I really like detain as a Limited mechanic. It provides a nice little portion of value, but is temporary enough that it can be purchased on most creatures for a very small price. Here, you get a 2/1 with detain instead of a 2/2, and that’s certainly a good deal.
Detaining two creatures for a turn when you summon him, the Justiciar starts off strong. Unfortunately, he also trails off pretty quickly, turning into a vanilla 2/2 shortly thereafter. I’m still a little optimistic, just because the ETB ability here is so powerful, but it feels like you’ve got better options for this sort of effect.
I do like it more than the Arrester, simply because the swing from detaining two guys is much bigger, and because you want to top off your curve with a detainer instead of lead with one.
At his best in aggro decks, the Justiciar still more than pulls his weight in control, buying you a significant amount of breathing room. Adding a 2/2 to the board while knocking a good portion of their team out for a full turn cycle is nothing to scoff at. Plus, even a temporary Flametongue is a beating, and if you can find a way to bounce this a few times, he’s even better.
The name isn’t the only bazaar thing about this card—both the art and the text box are something else. Even more bazaar would be if this saw tournament play, which I’d rate as a near-impossibility.
I’ve always had a soft spot for 2/5’s for five, probably dating back to my penchant for playing Drumstick Kami all the time in Champions block draft. The ability here isn’t too bad, letting you stay vigilant with whatever your second best creature is (because this is clearly the star of the show), and I suspect this’ll find its way into your deck a reasonably percentage of the time.
My horse sense is telling me that a 1/3 vanilla flier isn’t playable, even for the bargain price of 2 mana.
It does only have one power, which limits its range somewhat, but this little horsie can defend with the best of ‘em. I’d probably main deck one of these and sideboard the rest, depending on the class of threats you are facing. It also gets better if you have a couple good scavenge cards, since anything with wings is a good place to put a load of +1/+1 counters.
Until you’ve got a +5 Ethereal Armor, I wouldn’t try playing this in Constructed. I didn’t even know they came in +1.
Between detain guys, removal spells in general, and the small amount of power this gives you, I think any advantage gained by this is likely just ethereal. If this is good enough for Ravnica this time around, I’ll be disappointed.
Eyes in the Skies
I’m keeping my eyes on the populate cards. They are clearly quite situational, but if you combine enough decent ones together, you might be able to amass a token army (of tokens). This one isn’t leading the pack, but as one of the ones that’s guaranteed to populate, it’s certainly still on the table.
Even if this was straight up two 1/1 fliers, it would be playable, and in the right deck it’s presumably much more than that. If you aren’t heavy on tokens, I could see passing this, but early in the draft or once you have a bunch of other enablers, this has to be a reasonably high pick.
Boros Swiftblade did win two Constructed GPs back-to-back, and in Extended no less. While missing Might of Alara could be a problem, cards like Rancor and Wolfir Silverheart might keep the dream alive.
In most decks, this is a slightly better 2/1 for 2, since one point of its damage is of the first strike variety. Once you add scavenge or equipment/pump spells to the mix, things start to get interesting. Because the worst-case scenario is still pretty good, I can’t imagine that this will go too late in draft.
The next coming of the Kami of Ancient Ronom is here, and is in fierce competition with War Priest of Thune. While this doesn’t provide the actual card advantage of War Priest, the fact that you get to drop this on turn 2 instead of worrying about holding it probably gives it the edge. If you are going to play a 2-drop, play a 2-drop—don’t try and slowroll it for marginal value.
Depending on the speed of the format, this (and most of the other 2-drops), could certainly rank higher. The ability isn’t that spectacular, but if you are happy with a 2/2 for 2, anything else is just a bonus.
Discretion is the better part of valor, after all, and discretion includes knowing what cards you shouldn’t even consider for Constructed.
I actually like this effect. Five mana does seem like a lot, especially if you look at all the 2’s on the card, but you are getting 4 points of power and toughness, plus vigilance. In general, a 5/5 is better than a 3/3 and a 2/2, especially once you consider how relevant vigilance is on that body—I don’t think I’d be that unhappy to run this.
It certainly can get sided out against the wrong sort of removal, but if you wait to play this until it’s safe, you aren’t really getting that destroyed even if they do have it.
Besides sharing a name with a sweet Bruce Lee clone, Martial Law also looks promising in Constructed. Locking down a creature every turn is pretty awesome, and in exchange for having to wait a turn for it to get online, you have the option of changing targets when it suits you.
It’s the perfect setup for a Wrath, possibly an uncounterable one, and works quite well with planeswalkers as well. It actually seems like a pretty frustrating card to play against.
Imagine playing against two of these, having to drop three creatures just to make a little headway, and getting crushed over and over again by Wraths and Tamiyos. It’s also a great answer to various Zombie and/or Thragtusk-type threats, since unlike traditional removal, it doesn’t actually remove them.
It’s pretty hard to go wrong with this. It perpetually neutralizes their best creature, is relatively cheap to play, and I can only assume quite difficult to remove. The only downside is that it’s not the best topdeck, but unless you are literally dying on that turn, it’s going to start to clamp down on their forces.
I asked the palace to send aid, and all they sent was this lousy Giant. The ability is pretty cool, but things that cost six and don’t profitably interact with a removal spell aren’t generally what you want to be doing in the wide world of Constructed. I could see this possibly getting sideboarded against the mono-burn deck, where it at the very least gains you 7 life.
On the other hand, a guy that prevents you or your creatures from most deaths is certainly worth looking at in Limited. While you can’t really avoid having him die if they alpha strike, if you have any sort of board presence at all, the trade should favor you. If you don’t have a board presence, at least the Giant bought you a turn, which is more than what most cards would do.
The Phantom General of the United States recommends that you play no copies of this card.
In the dedicated token deck, this is actually a substantial effect, but most decks aren’t going to be particularly interested. Even if you do want this, it’s probably coming back around.
An aggressive body that actually rewards you for hitting for 2 is certainly not a bad deal for two mana. I like that this beats most of the other creatures that it’ll face in the first few turns, making attacking profitable regardless of what happens. If you take advantage of the tokens, great—but even if you don’t, it’s still good value.
There’s not much wrong with this card. While it might not be a giant bomb or anything, it is going to dominate the first couple turns if you draw it early. Hitting for 4 and making two tokens before getting outclassed is great, and even if you draw it late it will still do something relevant.
Rest in Peace
Graveyard hosers are getting serious. I remember the days of Burning Wish for Morningtide—this is quite a few steps above that. In Eternal formats, this gives you another good option if you are looking for this effect, though I generally like Ground Seal more in Standard. Still, if Frites does get out of control, having this around is nice.
This is a typical sideboard-only card. Don’t take it early, don’t main deck it, and only bring it in if they have a metric ton of graveyard interaction. Siding this in against a deck with three scavenge cards is certainly not in your best interests.
As we saw with Ghostway, trying to answer Wraths in this fashion generally does not work. However, in this card’s defense, you get to answer Wrath and make a token, as well as turn this into a creature even if a Wrath isn’t forthcoming.
Both of those uses are based on the assumption that you have tokens running around, but that doesn’t seem like an unreasonable assumption to me. If there is a deck that consistently has good tokens in play (Centaurs, perhaps?), the various populate cards that provide value become quite reasonable.
As populate cards go, this takes a little more support before it becomes very good. Making all your creatures indestructible isn’t terrible, but it takes more than a bad Safe Passage before I get excited. Putting a 3/3 into play to ambush them certainly does the trick, and if you have confidence that you are going to have a steady supply of tokens, populate away!
Sorry, Constructed is already plenty secure, so I’m gonna have to go ahead blockade this from consideration. Even if this provided a Samite Healer without taking up a land slot, getting a Samite Healer plus a 2/2 for three mana isn’t exactly a bargain.
Taking up a land slot is a substantial cost, but because you get a 2/2 Knight as well, you can ignore the land’s ability until you’ve cast all your spells. However, preventing damage only to you is fairly anemic, so getting two half cards in one still puts this slightly behind the sort of thing I’d normally like to play.
If I might cite Wikipedia for a brief moment:
A white elephant is an idiom for a valuable but burdensome possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth.
Yep, that sounds about right, especially the upkeep (regeneration) cost.
I’ve played Warpath Ghoul enough times to respect this guy, even if green mana is not something I have a ton of. Granted, I’d hope the card quality of my Ravnica decks is higher than in my M12 decks, but the point remains. Playing green is a nice bonus, but honestly doesn’t make that big an impact here.
Seller of Songbirds
Blade Splicer this is not. I get that token-making is a theme, but 1/1 bird tokens aren’t really where the action is, and certainly not at this rate.
If you’ve got a bunch of token synergies, this can become a slightly higher pick, but as I mentioned before, populating the board with birds is probably not your best bet. By itself, it’s decent but not exciting, providing more in the way of chump blocking than actual offense.
I mark this unplayable solely due to the fact that if you absolutely have to kill something, this fails miserably. It is probably removal for whatever they play early, but once it comes down to needing something dead, there’s nothing stopping them from just paying every turn.
I wasn’t a huge fan of this when it was called Pendrell Flux, but at least there it had echo creatures to prey on. I get that this can enchant any permanent, which doesn’t really help its case. Even if it works some reasonable percentage of the time, the occasions when it doesn’t work all end up with you getting totally destroyed.
Sphere of Safety
Don’t believe the propaganda put out by the powerful enchantment lobby! This will not save you, no matter how safe you think you’ll be.
The amount of effort it would take to make this into a real card seems staggering, though they do stack up nicely. Once you get 4 of these out, you are practically invincible!
This card is simple and inspiring, but not playable.
There hasn’t been a Limited format in history where this wouldn’t be solid, though the merits of such cards in Rise of the Eldrazi are debatable. Either way, this isn’t Return to Zendikar, and the Griffin will do just fine.
Another card I can swiftly put in the category of Limited-only combat tricks. Who says there isn’t justice?
This combination of bonuses plays out quite nicely. Plus one power and first strike should turn the tide of most combats, and lifelink means you are getting a good amount of value out of the deal. It isn’t out of the question to just cast this to gain 6 life either, further expanding its range of usefulness. One mana for all that is definitely a bargain.
I don’t know what a caracal is, but that one sure looks well-trained.
And the winner of the “most often played when it shouldn’t be” award goes to Trained Caracal in a landslide! People love lifelink, and who can blame them? Still, this doesn't deliver quite enough to make it into the vast majority of decks, so steer clear unless you have a ton of ways to grow it.
I like 2-for-1’s as much as the next guy (ok, maybe a bit more than that even), but paying six for an unreliable one isn’t my idea of value.
Even if you have no tokens in your deck, this still kills any creature—no questions asked, no remains to scavenge through. That alone makes it playable, if clunky. Once you start making use of the populate, you have built your own Flametongue Kavu, though it’s going to get grabbed by other people at the table for the reasons I just talked about.
Top 5 Commons
Even though there are all sorts of multi-color and hybrid cards running around, I’m going to rank the mono-color commons within each color, putting the hybrid cards along with all the cards from each guild. It shouldn’t be too hard to see how the lists would merge, based both on the ratings of each card and the comments about them, and there are only a couple hybrid commons for each color anyway.
5. Avenging Arrow
4. Azorius Arrester
3. Eyes in the Skies
2. Trostani’s Judgment
1. Sunspire Griffin
These aren’t the most inspiring commons I’ve ever seen. That’s partially a function of all the multi-color cards and partially a function of how the guild themes impact the commons. If you are drafting a Selesnya populate deck, these commons start looking much more attractive, with Judgment and Eyes both moving above everything else. Even if you aren’t, Judgment seems like a good catch-all, though there are steep diminishing returns; you can’t just play 3 or 4 of these.
Top 5 Constructed Cards
5. Azorius Justiciar
4. Rest in Peace
3. Precinct Captain
2. Martial Law
1. Angel of Serenity
White actually got a couple of solid cards here. Angel of Serenity still seems nuts to me, and that alone is a good haul out of a small amount of mono-white cards. Additionally, white gets a sweet control card in Martial Law, a multi-format sideboard card in Rest in Peace, and an interesting 2-drop in Precinct Captain. The Justiciar might be bringing up the rear a little bit, but hey, Hero of Bladehold is rotating, right?
Next up is Azorius, a guild which I debated joining. I can’t say which I did join, but that’s a clue in and of itself...