The most fun you can have in Magic right now is evaluate the new Guilds of Ravnica cards. The set is stacked with playables, so there’s much to think about!
Today I decided to go in a different direction and focus on the cards I am most excited to play in my favorite casual formats.
It’s easy to tell from the amount of ink the marquee Constructed staples (Assassin’s Trophy, shocklands, and planeswalkers) have been getting this past week that the set is going to have a profound impact on competitive formats, but I’m even more impressed by the depth of the casual cards.
I’ll be breaking down my predictions for the top 5 best cards for each of the following formats: Commander, Battle Box, Pauper, and Cube Draft.
Evaluating and Ranking Casual Cards
There is a fundamental difference between “ranking” competitive cards and casual cards, related to an assumption about why a person would play each format.
Competitive tournament formats are about competing and winning, since players are essentially playing to win qualifications to bigger events or prizes. Ultimately, the decision about which cards a player puts in their deck is directly related to increasing their win percentage.
The casual formats tend to be more about creativity and playing cards and strategies that people find fun and interesting. The games are more about having an enjoyable experience more than they are about winning at all costs.
With that in mind, it makes sense that there is a different set of metrics to evaluate casual cards that revolve around questions like, “Is the card fun, unique, or interesting?” Moreso than simply breaking down the cost and value, and determining whether it is playable or unplayable.
My goal with these lists are to try to predict which cards will have the biggest impact in casual formats. What does that mean? Well, I imagine the ultimate marker of casual success is longevity: Will people have these cards in their casual decks ten years from now?
There will be no overlap. There are cards like Assassin’s Trophy that are so good that they will be a staple in every format they are legal. In these cases, I put them onto the list of the format where I think the card will have the most important impact.
The set is so large, and so good, that there is obviously room for debate and dark horses. As always, I’d love to hear and discuss the reader’s picks about which new cards you are most excited to add to your favorite pet decks and formats.
Fantastic Mr. (Battle) Box
I suppose I’ll start with my favorite format of all time. I typically write an entire article about a new release and which cards I’m planning to cut and add to my personal Battle Box List. I’m very passionate about my Danger Room.
Guilds of Ravnica is so jam packed with amazing Battle Box cards I’m actually going to end up adding cards to my stack. I simply haven’t figured out exactly what I’m going to do yet, which is one reason why this article breaks from that tradition. The other is that there are a ton of really epic cards for other formats that haven’t gotten much discussion yet that I wanted to sing the praises of.
With that being said, here are the five cards I am most excited about sleeving up.
5. Integrity // Intervention
It’s really difficult to find room for combat tricks in the Danger Room because they are so situational. In a format with a bunch of Flametongue Kavu type cards, there is always the risk of drawing too many situational cards and floundering around, and that just isn’t very fun.
I love the idea of a pump spell on a split card to help mitigate that kind of risk. It’s very heads-up design that will help make combat tricks a bigger part of my stack without overloading on conditional cards.
4. Pelt Collector
1-drops are good but tricky in the Battle Box. Typically, you want to play dual lands early to make sure that you can make your colors reliably. I think this creature is good enough to earn its place for the long haul. It’s an upgraded version of Experiment One, which is already a fantastic 1-drop.
3. Bounty Agent
One of the biggest challenges of building a Battle Box is balancing the early drops with the more powerful late game spells. It’s important to have a 2-drop on 2, but it sucks to draw vanilla 2-drops in the late game when the opponent draws a Dragon or a Harmonize.
One way to mitigate this is to make sure that the 2-drops can at least play later in the game. Bounty Agent is a great example, since it is a potentially a good removal spell for a marquee threat later on.
2. Boros Challenger
Boros Challenger is everything I’ve ever wanted in an early game 2-drop for my stack. It’s aggressive and has abilities that are great. It also has that extra, sneaky point of toughness, which makes it a great blocker when you are on the backfoot. Boros is the deepest Danger Room guild in Ravnica 3.
1. Dream Eater
Oh Dream Eater! I believe you can get me through the niiiiight…
Wow, this card is crazy good in fair formats like Battle Box and Cube. The flash is what really puts it over the top. The several other abilities don’t hurt either…
This will easily be one of the most exciting cards to cast in my Danger Room moving forward even if it is pushing the power level a little bit.
While I’ve only ranked my five favorites, keep in mind that one reason I’ve changed the format for this set to “all casual” is because there are so many Battle Box cards that I’ve been confronted with the reality that I need to make room for more cards! It’s going to be a historically impactful Battle Box set.
I hope that someday soon I’ll be able to write a competitive set review about Pauper! I know people take their Pauper seriously, so I’m almost reluctant to discuss it in a “casual review.”
It’s not a disrespect. It’s basically just a way to shoehorn talking about one of my favorite formats into today’s article. Pauper is great and so are the people who go deep on following and supporting the format.
5. Healer’s Hawk
O.K., maybe this is a stretch to get to five cards, but there is no denying that in terms of stats for the cost, this is a good deal. The question is whether there is a deck that wants this card, and the answer is “I don’t know.”
It’s pricey, but the effect is good and at instant speed. I also love the way that it interacts with the board while you are tapping out to generate card advantage.
There are a lot of spell-based decks that could play a card like this as a fun-of.
3. Sumala Woodshaper
This is a nice little value creature. I also like that I can chain them into each other. Also, worth noting is that Sumala Woodshaper can find enchantments, which makes it a potential card for the Presence of Gond combo decks. It’s probably not a game-changer, but it is a new option.
2. Notion Rain
This is obviously a very good card that will compete with Mulldrifter in Dimir decks. The surveil makes the draws less random and stocks the graveyard for delve spells like Gurmag Angler. This will see play for sure.
What is Axebane Guardian’s favorite Pixar movie? Wall-E.
What is Axebane Guardian’s new favorite 1-drop? I think the Vine has a real shot at inclusion in that deck, since it is essentially a “Walls-matter” deck. I also love the way it lets you cash in excess Walls to dig for Freed from the Real in a pinch.
Guilds of Ravnica isn’t going to break Pauper, but there are more than a couple decent options to try out. I’m excited to try Portcullis Vine there.
The Many Sides of Cube Drafting
Of all the “casual” formats, Cube Draft has the most in common with a tournament format. Well, I suppose that all depends upon how one builds their Cube.
A lot of Cubes are designed to build decks that feel close to Constructed decks, which means that they feature mostly Constructed caliber cards. There are “combo Cubes,” which are pretty broken. And common/uncommon Cubes, which feel kind of like a tamely powered Battle Box.
There’s a wide spectrum. With that being said, these are the cards I’d be excited to see in a lot of different Cubes, almost regardless of power level.
5. Murmuring Mystic
A little off the beaten path with this pick, but this is a card I think is really neat and that I would for sure put into a Cube.
1/5 is a valuable body on a defensive blocker and out of Bolt range. I also like how it is a great turn the corner win condition for a control deck or alternate win condition for a Storm style deck.
4. Goblin Cratermaker
I love cards like these. Great flavor, good stats, and solid flexibility. I can play it on 2 and beat down, but it also gives me access to removal and Shatter at the same time without needing to main deck potentially dead cards in a beatdown deck.
3. Knight of Autumn
A card you can really fall in love with.
I knew I was going to like this card before I even read the text. The name is cool and the art is dazzling. I’ve been impressed with the flavor and the artwork of Guilds of Ravnica. It looks like design put a lot of energy into really developing a look and feel for Guilds and they nailed it. The cards look beautiful.
Knight of Autumn is a great rate for great abilities and options. The drawback of being a guild multicolor card rewards players for being in that color combination and getting a card like this a little later in the Draft.
2. Legion Warboss
So, it’s a better version of a card that was already insane? Cool.
1. Assassin’s Trophy
Unlike an Assassin, everybody saw this pick coming.
The card is absurd. It’s undercosted. It’s too flexible (if that’s a thing). It’s basically one of the best removal spells ever printed in terms of what it does for the cost. It’ll be in every Cube forever and for good reason—it belongs there.
Combat Commander Picks
Commander is another format with a wide range of ways to play. 1v1 or group melee? Infinite combos or not? It’s basically a format that can be played on a spectrum of how broken you want to be.
I tried to focus on cards I’d gravitate toward playing more on the casual/fun side. When I play Commander, I try to build decks that are flavorful and fluffy, rather than maximize on spiky stuff. I don’t Time Walk (in fact, I never play blue), I don’t Mindslaver, and I don’t Armageddon. I’m basically looking to have some fun and see some weird interactions. To each their own.
5. Niv Mizzet, Parun
Izzet going to resolve? Yes.
I know for a fact that many people are going to love using the new Niv Mizzet as their general. It can’t be countered. It draws cards. It deals damage. It does everything.
The best part about this card is that every time it is dealt with (and goes back to the command zone), you’ll be up a card for your trouble. The fact that it can’t be countered ensures that opponents will need to deal with it via spells, netting you a card.
4. Divine Visitation
Obviously, this is a flavorful “build-around-me”-type card. The good news is that it is simply a powerful effect that goes into any dedicated tokens-matter deck. Can you imagine casting Sprout Swarm with buyback and getting an Angel instead of a Sappy? Wow.
3. Doom Whisperer
The card is so busted when you start with 40 life. Once you resolve it you can essentially mill a huge chunk of your 99-card deck without paying mana for it. You can also surveil/scry to put specific combo pieces on top of your library to draw them. A powerful, repeatable, broken effect.
2. Izoni, Thousand-Eyed
Elven ant farm.
I love this card and am likely overvaluing it on my list, but I don’t care because I think it’s really cool. I have an Insect-themed B/G Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest deck and this card will be perfect for that deck. Izoni is a super flavorful Golgari card that does a bunch of stuff and will be fun to play with. For me, this card is the essence of everything I most enjoy about Commander gameplay and that is why I have it second on my list.
The card is good enough and fun enough that it’ll be reprinted in Commander 2030 theme decks. It’s great.
1. Mnemonic Betrayal
It’s like Yawgmoth’s Will, except you get to play out of everybody else’s graveyard!
On the one hand, the card is broken in half in multiplayer where the games go long. On the other hand, it’s a pretty epic and unique effect. It’s certainly a card that people are going to be playing with for as long as it’s legal in the format. It’s also the kind of card that could end up getting banned, since it will likely end a lot of games.
What Do You Think?
Whew! That was a slog and more difficult than I thought it would be.
The big takeaways for me:
There are a lot of sweet options for casual MTG out there waiting to be played and a lot of different spectrums for playing those formats (in terms of power level).
Guilds of Ravnica is really deep on fun and flavorful cards I’m looking forward to finding alternate, non-competitive outlets to play with. With that being said, I’m really looking forward to playing G.O.R. Limited because there are so many new cards I want to cast.
For most of these formats, I had a list of 10-20 potentially interesting cards, but wanted to narrow it down as much as possible. Obviously, since there’s no right or wrong way to play casual, we may disagree about which ones are the best.
Of all the cards in the set, without ever having cast any of them and only based on looking at the spoiler, my three favorites cards out of the gate are:
I’d love to hear and discuss the cards you are most looking forward to trying out in your favorite non-sanctioned format, and/or what your three favorite cards are in the set without being focused on competitive tournament formats.
Keep it casual and enjoy these really creative, colorful, flavorful and imaginative new Guilds of Ravnica cards.