Last week, we took a look at the central dynamics present in M13. As a general rule, M13 presented a rather straightforward picture of what each colour can do (which makes sense, given it’s meant more as an introduction than anything else). The only new card mechanic presented was Exalted, a very powerful mechanic that allows players to get in for massive damage with one creature while holding others back to block.
However, in the first expansion set of the cycle, Return to Ravnica, each of the five guilds presented has a core mechanic that is unique to that guild and is a massive change from the mechanics presented in M13. As such, before we look at the guilds of Gatecrash, it seems only fitting that we take one more look at the guilds in RTR to see how they changed the landscape of Magic play.
In every city, there has to be someone in charge of maintaining order and bestowing justice upon those who do ill. In Ravnica, that duty falls under the purview of the Azorius Senate. This Blue/White Guild is full of fliers, but the central mechanic is based on their duties to the city. Detain allows a player to choose an opponent’s creature; that creature can no longer attack, block, or activate it’s abilities for an entire turn, rendering them useless. If you can keep up a steady stream of cards with Detain, one can keep sneaking in there to batter away at your opponent’s life total while his creatures stand there looking on helpless to do anything about it.
The Azorius Arrester and Azorius Justiciar are perfect examples of this, as each is able to detain creatures upon entering the battlefield. Martial Law is a great enchantment that allows you to detain a creature every turn, ensuring your opponent’s most powerful creatures will never be a threat. The New Prahv Guildmage can give creatures flying or detain enemy permanents, and the Archon of the Triumvirate can detain two non-land permanents each time it attacks, and will be doing so quite often. All of these cards allow Azorius to maintain control over the chaos of the battlefield.
That said, Azorius has other powerful cards that maintain control without using Detain. Detention Sphere exiles a target permanent and all permanents sharing the same name, while the uncounterable Supreme Verdict eliminates all creatures from the battlefield, a key trick should things start turning against you. Righteous Authority and Sphinx’s Revelation both serve to ensure you will always have card advantage over your opponent. Finally, Isperia, Supreme Judge is a powerful flier that allows one to draw cards each time an opponent attacks. By combining Detain, exile abilities, and card advantage, a well-made Azorius deck ensures justice will be dealt to all who stand in your way.
Stand Back! Izzet is doing Science!
The Blue/Red Izzet League consists of the most brilliant and likely insane minds in all of Ravnica, and their only goal is to do as much science as possible to further their ends of…doing more science. Hey, at least they know what they like. Izzet’s main mechanic flows directly from this idea with Overload. Spells are given two costs: a smaller, base cost that can be used to affect one target, and an Overload cost, which is larger, but allows you to affect far more targets, replacing the word “one” with “each”. This allows for far greater flexibility when using your spells, as you can adapt on the fly to whatever is needed at that particular moment.
Cyclonic Rift is the perfect example of an Overload card; it can bounce one creature back to its owner’s hand for a relatively cheap two mana, but if one happens to have five additional mana lying around, one can cast it for its overload cost and bounce every creature on your opponent’s side. On it’s own, it has the power to completely turn the momentum of the game. Mizzium Mortars is another great example, with the opportunity to do 4 damage to a single creature for two mana or each of your opponents’s creatures for 6 mana. Admittedly, Overload is far more powerful in games against more than two opponents from which one can achieve maximum value, but it has value regardless.
Not every great Izzet card relies on Overload, obviously. Epic Experiment has the potential to cast a bunch of instants and sorceries without having to pay each specific mana cost depending on the X value you give it when casting. The Hypersonic Dragon is a powerful flier with haste that also allows sorceries to be used as combat tricks. The Mercurial Chemister works as both a damage dealer and a reliable source of card draw depending on what the situation requires. And finally, the leader of the guild, Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius, is a powerful flier that provides card draw opportunities and allows one to ping opponent’s health away bit by bit. While less straightforward than other decks, learning how to manipulate your spells on your way to powerful creatures is incredibly rewarding for any Izzet deck.
Feeding Off the Dead
The Golgari Swarm are a rather vicious group within Ravnica, lurking in the sewers and recycling the city’s wastes for their purposes. This Black/Green Guild takes the power of their fallen comrades to amplify the power of those left on the battlefield with their core mechanic Scavenge. By paying a certain mana cost and exiling a creature with Scavenge from the graveyard, one can place +1/+1 counters equal to the power of the creature being Scavenged onto any creature on the battlefield. This turns every defeat in battle into an opportunity for you to regain the upper hand
When it comes to scavenging, one need not look further than the Zanikev Locust, a decent flier with a rather low Scavenge cost should things go poorly. Those three +1/+1 counters for four mana is a steal. The Deadbridge Goliath is another great Scavenge creature, as it’s a 5/5 for four mana that can later create 5 +1/+1 counters for six mana. That’s two great values for the price of one. The Dreg Mangler also has great value, as a 3/3 for three mana with haste and a low Scavenge cost. And who can forget Slitherhead, a card with a Scavenge cost of 0, essentially making it a free chump blocker that will strengthen future creatures?
Of course, there are other great cards in the Golgari’s arsenal. Death’s Presence gives you double the value on a Scavenge creature, giving +1/+1 counters to target creatures each time a creature dies. The Pack Rats are a game winner by themselves, able to greatly increase in strength and numbers by constantly cloning itself, and once it’s been cloned even once, there are few cards that can stop the oncoming horde. Corpsejack Menace doubles the +1/+1 counters placed on a creature each time such an event would occur, giving maximum value on any Scavenge. The Lotleth Troll makes itself more powerful by sending creatures to the graveyard that can later be used to Scavenge onto it, quickly creating an unstoppable force with its low regeneration cost. And finally, Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord gets stronger as your graveyard expands, and can sacrifice creatures to strengthen itself and damage your opponent directly. Effective use of your graveyard can make any Golgari deck unstoppable.
The Cult of Rakdos consists of demons, devils, and other creatures that follow the demon Rakdos and wish to destroy all in their path. As such, this Black/Red Guild uses a mechanic called Unleash, in which the player can choose to place a +1/+1 counter on their creature when entering the battlefield at the expense of being unable to block. This feature allows Rakdos decks to get powerful creatures out quickly before an opponent can respond appropriately; the early strength advantage can often be enough to win games against slower decks.
The Thrill-Kill Assassin is a great example of an Unleash creature: a 1/2 with Deathtouch for two mana that can become a 2/3 killer that will force your opponent to sacrifice at least one creature to its blades. The Bloodfray Giant is a 4/3 with Trample and unleash for four mana, giving it the potential to be a massive damage dealer if you’re willing to part with his ability to block, which seems like it minimizes his value anyhow (you’d always rather be the aggressor when you have trample). The Chaos Imps are power 6/5 fliers that gain Trample when unleashed, making them easily one of the more powerful creatures in the set. The Hellhole Flailer, a 3/2 with Unleash for three mana, can sacrifice itself to do direct damage once it’s outlived its usefulness. And the Carnival Hellsteed has Haste, First Strike, and Unleash, making it an offensive juggernaut.
There are plenty of other powerful cards to consider when looking at Rakdos. Dreadbore is a really cheap way to eliminate anything you just want to die. The Rakdos Ragemutt has both Lifelink and Haste, allowing you to gain life before your opponent can react to its appearance on the battlefield. Rakdos’s Return deals damage to your opponent in both direct and indirect ways, as it also forces him or her to discard cards from their hand. And finally, Rakdos, Lord of Riots is a four mana powerhouse: a 6/6 with Flying and Trample that makes creatures cost less when you are able to deal damage that turn. A quick start can give any Rakdos deck an upper hand that’s nearly impossible to slow down once the bleeding begins.
The Selesnya Horde
As a general rule, it’s good to have a lot of creatures, especially if you’re a member of the Selesnya Conclave, which revere nature and growth above all else. This Green/White guild hopes to restore the city to a more natural state using their Populate mechanic. Populate allows a player to create a copy of any creature token currently on their side of the battlefield. In many cases, this is in addition to other effects, giving extra value when casting spells.
Populate works in two facets: first, cards like Call of the Conclave create creature tokens (in this case, a 3/3 centaur for only two mana), then other cards allow you to Populate. Other token creators include the Grove of the Guardian, a land that can be sacrificed to create an 8/8 Elemental token with Vigilance. Once those creatures are there, however, it’s up to other card to Populate them. Rootborn Defenses is an underrated Populate card that makes your creatures indestructible should combat turn against you. Trostani’s Judgment exiles a target creature and Populates if possible. Growing Ranks allows you to Populate at the beginning of your upkeep every turn. And the leader of the Selesnya Conclave, Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice, is able to cheaply Populate each turn while also creating consistent life gain in the process.
Other important Selesyna cards include the Phantom General, which gives a +1/+1 boost to all creature tokens on your side of the field. Collective Blessing is a must have that gives all of your creatures +3/+3 as long as it remains on the field. The Armada Wurm is a 5/5 with Trample that creates a duplicate Wurm token upon its arrival. And finally, the most powerful card in the set, the Worldspine Wurm, is an astonishing 15/15 with Trample for eleven mana that replaces itself through three 5/5 Wurm tokens with Trample upon death and recycles itself into the player’s library to appear later. Clearly, The Selesnya Conclave is capable of creating truly powerful creatures that can easily overwhelm an opponent through its use of Populate.
So what do you think of the first five guilds? Let us know in the comments below which guild is your favourite, and next time, we’ll finally look at Gatecrash itself to see how it’s mechanics fit into the already established block.