Wizards of the Coast has released its newest Magic: The Gathering set, Guilds of Ravnica, which is set to be available worldwide on Friday, October 5th. Pre-release events this past weekend both online and at gaming stores across the country have given fans the chance to sample the new deck types, mechanics, and new and returning cards, and to begin to explore this new limited format and hypothesiz(zzle) about how the new cards may play in other formats.
Guilds of Ravnica is another nostalgia trip for players, similar to the Dominaria set released earlier this year. It is set in the plane of Ravnica, which was also used in older sets including Return to Ravnica (2012) and the original Ravnica (2005).
Guilds of Ravnica as a set is based around the idea that there are different “guilds” in Ravnica (built around different card color combinations) that each operates under their own mechanics, creature types, and gameplay philosophy, and that compete with one another. In promos, fans are encouraged to pledge allegiance to a guild and play specific deck types that suit their chosen guild.
In addition to creating a fun gimmick for limited matches, the release of Guilds also coincides with the rotating of the standard format, as the block of Kaladesh, Aether Revolt, Amonket, and Hour of Devastation have all rotated from Standard, picking apart most if not all of commonly played Standard decks and leaving room for new deck types and combinations to fight for a top tier spot. Guilds of Ravnica is also the first of a three-set block that will all operate under the same mechanics, perhaps including the rest of the ten guilds in the future.
The current set contains five guilds: Golgari (green and black), Izzet (red and blue), Boros (red and white), Dimir (black and blue), and Selesnya (green and white). Each guild has its own special mechanic that is new to the set.
Golgari Swarm, the black and green guild, are kind of the Ironborn of Ravnica. The Golgari gain their power through growth and the necessity of death as a part of life. (See, what is dead may never die!).
The new mechanic for Golgari that showcases this concept is Undergrowth. When a card has undergrowth, it will trigger a certain ability based on the number of creature cards its owner has in their graveyard.
Undergrowth is a fun mechanic because each undergrowth card does something different. Some will allow the player to gain life equivalent to the number of creature cards in their graveyard, some will allow the player to put that number of counters on a creature, some will deal that number of damage to an opponent, and some will create that number of tokens. For that reason, Undergrowth is one of the most fun and diverse mechanics in the new set.
The idea of a Golgari deck is to put a lot of creatures into your graveyard, either by creature combat, sacrificing, or discarding cards, and then using Undergrowth to gain an advantage.
Golgari contains two of the strongest cards in the new set, which also happen to be the two cards with the greatest value. Vraska, Golgari Queen is a force to be reckoned with. She is a black, green planeswalker with a converted mana cost of four who comes into play with four loyalty counters.
Each turn, she allows you to sacrifice another permanent to gain one life and draw one card. This ability works wonderfully in a Golgari undergrowth deck. Her -3 ability allows you to destroy any planeswalker with converted mana cost of three or less. Her ultimate gives you an emblem that wins the game anytime you are able to deal combat damage to another player.
This Vraska’s first ability fits wonderfully into the Golgari philosophy, and her other two will likely make her playable in formats like Modern, Standard, or Commander. Right now Vraska is worth around $12.50, so not a huge win, but definitely worth your booster pack purchase. It’s hard to determine future prices though as Standard is still in its very infancy this week, but we predict the price of this card to increase.
Golgari’s big money grab is Assassin’s Trophy, which may be one of the best removal spells in the entire game. Assassin’s trophy destroys any permanent for only two mana and allows the owner to put a basic land card onto the battlefield. Assassin’s trophy currently goes for $28.
If we’re sticking with the Game of Thrones comparisons for a minute, the blue wizards of Izzet are like the warlocks in the house of the undying. In magic lore though, The Izzet League is a guild of wizards, inventors, and mad scientists that are known for innovation, intellect, and sometimes aggression. Izzet cards are blue and red and focus mostly on instants and sorceries.
The new mechanic in Izzet is Jump Start. With Jump Start, a player can discard a card to replay an instant or sorcery from his or her graveyard for its mana cost. After a card is jump-started, it is exiled. Izzet plays some strong burn and counterspells that can be played twice, and allow players to play both aggressively and controllingly within Izzet. Among these cards is Risk Factor, which shows the true colors of both red and blue, allowing its player to either burn its opponent or draw cards.
There isn’t much value in Izzet cards, but they are incredibly fun to play with the right combinations. Izzet also boasts it’s own powerful planeswalker, Ral, Izzet Viceroy. Ral lets you look at the top two cards of your library and put one into your hand and one into the graveyard (which seems to be a bit of a twist on Surveil, the Dimir mechanic which we’ll discuss later). His -3 deals damage equal to the number of instant or sorcery cards in your graveyard, which fits with an Izzet jumpstart deck. Both of these abilities are alright, but Ral’s true power is in his ultimate, which allows you to deal four damage to any target and draw two cards every time you play an instant or sorcery. Unfortunately, you are not likely to be able to use this ability. Ral costs five mana and comes in with five loyalty, and can only gain up to one loyalty per turn. If you were going to ultimate Ral in a limited game (which doesn’t contain much ramp) you would not get there until at least turn eight, and then would need to play more instants and sorceries. In other formats, this would be too slow. Still, a cool card, nonetheless, and he definitely fits with the philosophy of Izzet.
Another cool card is the reprinting of Wee Dragonauts. It’s a pretty self-explanatory card, it gains +2/+0 every turn that you play an instant or a sorcery. Niv-Mizzet, Parun, the dragon wizard head of Izzet League is one of the best cards to get. He draws you a card whenever any player plays an instant or sorcery, and deals one damage to any target whenever you draw a card.
Boros League, the white and red guild, is focused on a tactical advantage, soldiers, armies, and defending justice. Boros cards include angels and soldiers and generally is a quicker deck, as Boros cards tend to have cheaper mana costs than in the other guilds.
Boros’s new mechanic in Guilds of Ravnica is Mentor. When a card has Mentor, it gives +1/+1 to another attacking creature with lower power. Mentor is a somewhat straightforward ability, as long as you’re careful about how you place attacking creatures on the stack if you’d like to pump creatures more than once (so that the mentored creature remains at a lower creature than its Mentor). Mentor is a fun mechanic that makes it easy to play a quick and wide strategy aggro deck.
The powerful card for Boros is Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice. Aurelia not only Mentors, but also gives up to one creature +2/+0 and trample if it’s red, vigilance if it’s white. So if you’re playing another Boros card, it gets both! She also only costs four mana and has flying. She can also target herself with her ability, making her a 4/5 flyer with vigilance and trample, and allows her to mentor any creature with power under 4. She plays well in limited, but would also fit very well into a Standard angel deck, as there were many other powerful angels in M19.
The majority of top scoring Standard decks played this week are in the Boros colors, so Boros might just be a secret weapon.
House Dimir is blue and black and is built on secrecy, manipulation, and working behind the scenes and within the shadows. Like Izzet, Dimir plays a lot of instants and sorcery and often focuses on a strategy of control rather than aggro.
Dimir has one of the best mechanics in this set, Surveil. Surveil cards will list a number and allows players to look at the top x (that number) of cards in their library. Players can then choose to put any number of cards on the back top of the library in any order OR into the graveyard. Surveil is similar to scry, only rather than put cards on the bottom of your library, which is not as easy to use, you put them directly in your graveyard, which makes them more readily accessible in many decks.
Dimir doesn’t really play any expensive or powerful cards in this set, but it makes up for it with the surveil mechanic. Surveil also works very well with the Undergrowth and Jump Start mechanics of this set, so if you are willing to break from the guilds and play three or more colors, you can probably create some clever combos.
Selesnya is probably the weakest guild in the new set (Don’t @ me!). Selesnya’s philosophy is peace, life, and unity. White and Green cards are generally a favorite combination of mine, but the cards in this set aren’t really up to snuff.
Selesnya’s mechanic is Convoke. When a card has Convoke, you may tap any number of creatures to reduce its mana cost. Basically, Selesnya plays a really ramp focused deck, which would be fun, but this set doesn’t really have a lot of big bombs. The best Convoke card is probably Seige Wurm, which is a 5/5 trampler for seven mana.
The bright side for Selesnya is that Convoke cards may fit well into a mono-green beast/creature deck in Standard, and some of the white cards would fit well into a lifegain standard deck. In limited though, this guild is not very impressive.
Ramp & Mana Fixing
The new set includes three different new types of lands and ramp for each guild.
Guildgates are the typical tap lands that you’ll find in every set, and one exists for each of the five guilds. They enter tapped and can provide either of the two colors listed.
Each guild also has a locket card, which costs three mana and can tap for either of the two colors in the guild. For 4 mana of either color, you can sacrifice the lockets to draw two cards. The lockets aren’t as good as signets, but they’re alright. Three mana is kind of a lot for one mana, so they can’t really ramp you early game (this set in general is pretty slow!), but they do provide flood insurance. Lockets in general are probably more useful in guilds that aren’t Izzet or Boros. Boros’ strategy is much quicker than the other guilds, so its locket won’t be of much help. Izzet already provides flood insurance through its Jump Start mechanic, so the locket is less useful.
Shock lands, originally from the Ravnica and Return to Ravnica sets have been reprinted in Guilds of Ravnica. Shock lands can tap for either color, and enter the battlefield tapped unless their owner pays 2 life. These cards are obviously very useful in all formats. They are worth pulling in a pack too, Steam Vents, Sacred Foundry, and Watery Grave are currently worth $9. Temple Garden is worth $6.50, Overgrown Tomb is worth $7.
Overall, Guilds of Ravnica is a fun set for limited. It feels like it’s made for a draft format, with five types of decks being played with a specific purpose and other decks (mono or 3+ colors) as a variation on that theme. And in limited, it is very fun! If you are into Magic lore or color philosophy, this set has a lot of treats for you. The new mechanics are all pretty solid and fun to play.
The more powerful cards also fit nicely into the current/new standard format and could create some new top tier decks. In terms of the overall quality and power level of individual cards, I would say that this set is not super impressive. I don’t predict many of these cards being played in Modern, other than of course Assassin’s Trophy, a which is an incredibly powerful card. You also won’t get a lot of value out of this set unless you pull an Assassin’s Trophy, a planeswalker or a shock land (but this is all subject to change! We shall see!).
What is your favorite guild to play? What guild do you miss, or are you looking forward to in the next set? Let us know in the comments!