When I first started doing these tribal evaluations with Magic 2013, I wrote that the tribal concept doesn't belong uniquely to the very niche Tribal Wars format (but if you want to try that, there's a free PRE every Saturday waiting for you!). Indeed, tribal is a very strong flavor of Magic, exploited in design and embraced by many players, and you can see many competitive decks that, if not entirely Tribal Wars-legal, are close enough. This is to say that evaluating the different "tribes" (the groups of creatures sharing the same subtype) may be of interest to any player.
And while Return to Ravnica isn't exactly what one would call a "tribal set" (unlike, for instance, Legions, Lorwyn, or Innistrad), it boosts many popular tribes, and even brings back some semi-forgotten ones. What follows is a constructed-aimed commentary/evaluation of all the new creatures (among the reprinted cards, we only got Tower Drake), divided into their various tribes, in descending order of new additions, guild-aligned creatures coming first (in this order: Azorius, Izzet, Rakdos, Golgari, Selesnya). You can skip directly to the final summary to go check your favorite tribe. Enjoy!
With every passing block, Human looks less and less like a real tribe rather than just the basic state of the game. Innistrad was rich in Human population (+36 members per each of the three set, on average), due to its background story of Men vs Monsters. And yet Ravnica is almost as rich, and the reason evidently derives from its varied urban environment, a type of fantasy setting where the human component is always prominent. Almost all Humans in RTR have secondary subtypes, so I'll just briefly touch upon them in this section, given that they will be mentioned again in later tribes.
Despite the large overall number, only three out of the five guilds in RTR have Humans in them. Azorius gets the most of them, with 6 new members:
The Azorius' detain mechanic is featured conspicuously here. In particular, Azorius Arrester is a nice, low-curve, tempo creature that might have a role in white weenie decks, especially in Pauper, while his enhanced version, Azorius Justiciar, is definitely overcosted. New Prahv Guildmage's repeatable detain effect (on any nonland permanent, even) might be a viable control deck option, but it hasn't much use in the early game. Lyev Skyknight feels like the best detainer of the bunch, then, as it's an aggressively-costed, heavy-hitting flyer with the ability to turn off an enemy permanent for a full turn. The last two guys are a midrange flasher that's just mildly interesting even in Limited, and the nice extravaganza of Azor's Elocutors, a new build-around-me, you-win-the-game card that will certainly spawn a few Johnny decks trying to very flavorfully "impeach" the board.
Izzet has 3 new Human members, all of the utility variety.
Izzet Staticaster is a solid surprise pinger, with improved durability and built-in token hate, and in the same mana range of classic cards like Prodigal Sorcerer and Cunning Sparkmage. Nivix Guildmage, on the other hand, combines the ability of a looter and a Fork effect, but both are a bit expensive to impact significantly. Still, all the new guildmages, like the old ones, have Grizzly Bears CMC and body, and activation costs that lack the tap symbol, both of which are plus factors for them in terms of playability. The last Izzet Human, Mercurial Chemister, is a more cost-intensive yet more fascinating guy, as his two abilities are both very powerful and cheap to use (essentially: insane card advantage + insane removal potential). If you manage to have him survive long enough, he's definitely going to make his presence felt.
Finally, Rakdos features no less than 5 Human hedonists...
...and they're mostly a bunch of low-rarity posterboys for the unleash mechanic. Thrill-Kill Assassin especially illustrates the basic choice you're called to take with unleash: either emphasize the attack power, or choose a defensive tactic where deathtouch really matters. The Rix Maadi Guildmage is also not especially engaging: his abilities are cheap enough, and play within the overall Rakdos strategy of hitting fast and hard, but they're not very reliable, although a 4-mana activation of the first one might really mess with the opponent's blocking plans; it's likely to do the same to your own board construction, though.
More interesting are the 9 unaligned Human creatures.
White gets a fast double striker in Fencing Ace and two token generators: the one-time deal of Seller of Songbirds (the only Human in RTR without additional subtypes), which providing a nice flyer only asks to be abused, and in certain cases may even be a serious contender for Blade Splicer's spot; and the stronger yet less inevitable Precinct Captain, the latest in white 2-drop aggro dudes with added tactical value (in this case, the possibility to grow his own army of Honor of the Pure recruits).
The blue couple is a typical "good in Limited, worthless elsewhere" deal, with Stealer of Secrets not adding anything new in the Ophidian area, and Voidwielder being an expensive Man-o'-War/Aether Adept (cards for which the resilience is less important than the tempo gain). The black one, Tavern Swindler, is just a fun oddity that has "casual" written all over it.
On a juicier territory, Ash Zealot (included in RTR on Development's request, despite not having anything to do flavorfully or mechanically with the set) has been purposely designed as an anti-flashback measure, and she does a good job of justifying her presence in your red deck nonetheless (a 2/2 hasted first striker for 2? Let's talk about it), nicely adding the graveyard hate as a bonus. And if Wild Beastmaster might feel a little too frail and slow for what she does, even if what she does can be good in a Stompy type of deck (with Rancor in it, of course), the unassuming Axebane Guardian opens a new ramp venue, particularly in Standard. Compared to his more direct cousin, Overgrown Battlement, the Guardian is slower and a worse blocker (not to mention, not Bolt-proof), but the capability to provide every color of mana might prove decisive.
Which of these you should generally consider when deckbuilding: Lyev Skyknight, Izzet Staticaster, Mercurial Chemister, Seller of Songbirds, Precinct Captain, Ash Zealot, Axebane Guardian.
Not the subset of Human one might expect, the Soldier tribe in RTR is definitely a white bunch, with just a splash of Selesnya green. Even in this case, though, most of them belong more clearly to their subtype tribes. There are three pretty decent Humans like the detainer Azorius Arrester, the double striker Fencing Ace, and especially the token menace Precinct Captain. Two Elephants at the opposite ends of the power spectrum (with Loxodon Smiter as one of the best aggro creatures in the set, and Selesnya Sentry as a terrible piece of crap with a record 6-mana regeneration). Two Giants who are seeing play in Limited (Armory Guard is a defensive dude mainly noteworthy for his interplay with the Gates; Palisade Giant is even more defensive, but outside of Limited can't be seen as a serious option in Sun Titan mana). A Pyromancer Ascension-hosing Dryad that makes for a strictly better Savannah Lions/Elite Vanguard. And a somehow interesting Spirit that acts as a token lord, sort of a midrange boost to Intangible Virtue on a stick.
Most of the Wizard tribe in RTR doubles as Human (which is typical enough). Aside for the Limited-effective, Constructed-underwhelming Voidwielder, the whole tribe encompasses the two guilds that are the most likely to employ mages (as opposed to Shamans or Druids): the more sophisticated and civilized Azorius and Izzet. Among the former, Azorius Justiciar is a slow, overcosted detainer that couldn't be worth a thought even in a Venser, the Sojourner build; New Prahv Guildmage, if equally slow, may become somehow a centerpiece of a control deck that'll be able to push the conflict into a very late phase (we're very clearly talking about Block Constructed or Standard here).
The Izzet Wizards are, appropriately, more explosive: Izzet Staticaster is a great pinger, capable of emerge from nowhere and demolish the opponent's army of token with a single gesture. And if Nivix Guildmage isn't incredibly exciting as a looter/forker with mana-intensive activations, Mercurial Chemister is something on the grand tradition of Archivist (which he actually surpasses in every possible respect): a creature that asks for commitment in terms of curve and the ability to make it stick, but rewards with a monstrous strategic advantage: 2 cards per turn for 1 mana, or a discard outlet tha doubles as removal? What else?
Izzet also gets the useful, useful Goblin Electromancer, a non-aggro Goblin that works like a Medallion (or Etherium Sculptor, if you prefer) for Izzet's precious instants and sorceries. Which isn't certainly something to sneeze at, given the number of instant/sorcery-based decks, even in Modern (you know, like that Pyromancer Ascension storm build you see around sometimes?) And then, let's see... oh, guess what, the guild boss himself happen to be a Wizard (in addition to a mighty Dragon). I'm talking of our old pal Niv-Mizzet, who apparently ended his Firemind phase and has now decided to define himself a Dracogenius.
Tap to draw a card: so 2006.
They did a nice symmetric design with the two cards, the latest working essentially as the complementary of the older. Both are strong, and the Dracogenius is even a beefier 5/5 now (guess Niv hit the gym enough in the past 7 years). Still, the Firemind had that nice Curiosity/Ophidian Eye endgame combo going on which the newest version isn't able to attain (and this is definitely affecting his chances to steal the lead of a Niv-Mizzet Commander deck from his old self). Essentially, Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius acts as a super-Masticore, machine-gunning creatures and players while drawing cards (and swinging for 5) in the process. It's obviously something, and might be worth a 6-mana spot in the appropriate Izzet deck. Plus, you know you want to experience the trippy joy of having both versions of Niv-Mizzet on the field at once, happily drawing cards and dealing damage out of each other (they're not able to create an infinite loop, unfortunately, since the Dracogenius' drawing ability only cares about the damage he deals by himself).
On the Warrior side of things, the Human Warriors (and the lonely Ogre) are Limited fodder/unleash basic examples, except for Ash Zealot, which is a nice combination of a lot of valuable skills: fast-drop hitter, tempo-gainer through haste, good fighter/blocker thanks to first strike, and a juicy anti-flashback ability too. A nice little package for a RDW Burn or similar builds (don't make the mistake to see her as a sideboard card, because it's not: 3 damage won't prevent people from re-casting Lingering Souls or Unburial Rites, will just make easier for you to seal the deal when they do that).
Grim Roustabout is very frequently drafted in Rakdos build, and it's another good example of the dualism unleash proposes when it asks you to choose between weaker blocker (fully exploiting the regeneration) or stronger beater. The other Skeleton is a weird card: typical skeletonesque regeneration on a 3/1 first striker could have made for a nice low-cost aggro dude with tactical value; but then they went and added the Hypnotic Specter ability, which at uncommon creates an almost unplayable 6-mana absurdity.
Also strange is Lobber Crew, in that it's both a Goblin and a Warrior, and yet it's a defender player-pinger, which doesn't feel like Goblin nor Warrior at all. Granted, it is a rock lobber, and there's not a "war machine" subtype, after all. The clause saying "each opponent" might lead to some use in multiplayer (over the many, many better pingers in existence), but all in all it's just something that's just been occasionally seen in Limited, where there's some value to be milled from the ability to hit the opponent past the roadblocks of congested battlefields.
The only Rakdos Zombie, Dead Reveler, is yet another instance of a cheap, low-rarity unleasher (they're essentially all Limited patrons). The tribe is predictably the domain of the Golgari guild, though, and equally unsurprisingly the playfield for the scavenge mechanic. The Zombies were recycled dead to begin with, after all, and thanks to scavenge, they get recycled once more!
The best of the lot are the two Plant Zombies (a weird, Swamp Thing-like concept that got introduced in the first Ravnica block with cards like Shambling Shell or Vulturous Zombie. Dreg Mangler and Slitherhead are both fast and reliable (where Sewer Shambler is just underwhelming, and the Wurm is too slow and poorly equipped). The Mangler in particular is arguably the best scavenger printed so far, swinging for 3 damage as soon as turn 3 (or even earlier with accelerators), then giving a consistent midgame pumping option.
And the Zombie tribe also includes the guild leader Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord, the brother of the late Queen Savra. Jarad has potential but he's a strange beast. He thrives in late game, when his body will be boosted by the creatures in your graveyard (still, this kinda works against scavenge, doesn't it?), and when you can recur him by getting rid of two surplus lands. This is all nice and good, but what exactly Jarad is supposed to do in the meantime? The only thing he has going is being a not-so-cheap sacrifice outlet that causes loss of life to each opponent (this might be a hint of the fact that he's supposed to be more at home as a Commander card). Not a bad card, by any means, but hard to incorporate as more than the occasional 1-of, let's-see-what-he-does kind of thing.
The real Zombie star is another. And it's a Troll. And it's one of the top 10 cards in the whole set, with a good shot at being the number 1 overall. I don't think I need to explain why Lotleth Troll is amazing, especially in Standard and Modern. I've seen and played Modern games where a turn-2 Lotleth Troll decided the outcome. He comes fast. He regenerates. He grows over time. He grows A LOT. And he tramples, too! He turns into a resilient, unstoppable menace sooner than you'd think. But what's more important, he does all these scary things while also being a discard outlet with no additional costs. Compare it to Putrid Imp, which is still a more than legit discard outlet. But what does the Imp get from his discard deal? Not much, if anything at all. The Troll becomes a menace by himself while at the same time serving your deck strategy. The Troll IS your undeclared deck strategy. And he combos with all kinds of creatures; just to name a few: Squee, Goblin Nabob; Haakon, Stromgald Scourge; Bloodghast; Vengeful Pharaoh; all the scavengers, and Slitherhead in particular; everything you might want to reanimate later; and much, much more. Lotleth Troll: you just can't believe it.
The Beast additions from RTR really feel like filler-feast. Batterhorn can be semi-useful as a variant of Ingot Chewer (with the evoke option replaced by a +1/+0 and the choice to not necessarily perform the artifact destruction). But like all his other beastly companions here (all unaligned, since they're all low-sentient animals, I guess), it's just something you would consider for use in Limited only. French vanilla with haste, French vanilla with vigilance (a 3/1 vigilance? Well, it's cheap, at least), and even a functional reprint of, oh my, Giant Spider. Yep, nothing relevant to the tribe this time.
Elf in RTR is a Golgari tribe, and as such, it does particular and specialized things, not typically Elf-like. Golgari Decoy is the most traditional, as a new take on cards like Taunting Elf or Nath's Elite, but it's overcosted for a 2/2, due to the scavenge ability being a little too good on a guy who's expected to die. We examined strengths and weaknesses of the Golgari leader Jarad in his other and more relevant tribe, Zombie. We also have in Elf the new Golgari "utility bear", Korozda Guildmage. Pumping a creature for 3 mana while giving them intimidate: not exactly exciting. Turning a (possibly dying) creature into a number of 1/1 tokens equal to their toughness: that's more interesting, but the 4 mana needed to pull it off aren't so likely to be open at the right moment.
We can cut the chase here, since Elf (and of course, Shaman) got the guy who's being acclaimed as the arguably best card of the whole set (graced with one of the best art pieces, too, from the very talented Steve Argyle): Deathrite Shaman. A few months have passed since the set's release, and Deathrite Shaman is already a big, big presence on Modern, popping up pretty much everywhere, including Tron builds. Reading the card immediately gives you the sense of how many things the guy can do, but you actually have to play with him, or against him, to fully realize the whole extent of his powers. On words, it might feel situational, granting occasional little life here, or getting occasional little damage through there, and not really being a reliable Birds of Paradise (or even Noble Hierarch) replacement. And yet an active, undisturbed Deathrite Shaman (and it's easy to discount him as just a little nuisance and target your spot removals elsewhere) can move the balance of a game in your favor by himself. Not to mention, all the functions it can cover, from fighting RDW to disrupting almost any graveyard-based strategy. And how sweet is its perfect interaction with Golgari Charm?
Finally, we have a couple unaligned Elves. Centaur's Herald is a good common, a high pick in Limited, due to her ability to chump block while giving you a honest 3/3 for 3. An activated ability with high mana cost that needs to be appropriately timed can't be too enticing in most Constructed formats, though, although I can see her being played in Pauper. It's definitely a better card than Oak Street Innkeeper anyway, which lends protection against... sorcery-speed spot removals? Kinda lame. And judging from her dressing style, the true nature of that inn looks quite shady, goofy dog notwithstanding.
Rogue is a tribe that can do great things, but can also produce underwhelming members. It needs the right set to thrive. Admittedly, Ravnica's urban setting would seem the perfect fit for thieves and assorted scumbags. And yet, strangely, it doesn't have a good track record with them, the old block's only memorable members being just Silhana Ledgewalker and, partially, (Tin Street Holigan). And so far, the new visit to the city-plane doesn't seem to be going all that better for the Rogues: no rare members, and just a bit of different stuff that at best you can find cute in Limited, like Golgari Decoy or Stealer of Secrets, new takes on old tricks. Faerie Impostor isn't a 1-drop, clearly, and can be mildly useful only in a very dedicated recycle-your-stuff deck: her casting cost and board presence are alluring enough. Tavern Swindler is just an oddity, and Ogre Jailbreaker is only noteworthy for referencing the Gates. Even in a deck with them, though, it would be just a 4/4 vanilla for 4, which is far from what could push you into building a Gate deck to begin with. Now, the Viashino comeback can give you pause, instead. It's a reanimation enabler with a reasonable cost and a built-in counterbalance to the inherent card disadvantage of such a move. Rogue isn't the best tribe for reanimation and red isn't the best color for Rogues anyway, but it's a nice little card within an otherwise pretty opaque assortment.
Shaman is easily my favorite "class" tribe, mainly because they are the magic users of green, red, and the more savage side of black (like the Zendikar Vampires. As such, they are more likely to feature effects linked to nature, wildland, emotion, and darkness. In RTR, this means they are the tribe that encompasses the guildmages of three out of five guilds: Rakdos, Golgari, and Selesnya. (Plus, the amazing Deathrite Shaman. Did I already mention how awesome he is?) When it comes to the guildmages, especially these new ones, I'm a bit conflicted. I feel like I should hold them in higher esteem than what I actually do. They're multicolored Grizzly Bears with two different, repeatable abilities that can't be used right away. And some of those effects are pretty good, the Rakdos guy has some kind of quasi-removal, the Golgari one can turn a removal against the opponent, and especially the Selesnya Dryad is able to both spawn and clone tokens, which is huge. Still, they all require something I really dislike and consider a major weakness: to leave a relevant quantity of mana open in order to be able to make the better use of them (like with the Rakdos's removal or the Golgari's sacrifice-the-dying-creature in combat); or in any case, they're mana intensive. They just rub me the wrong way. They remain legit utility creatures and a high pick in Limited. I don't know about Constructed applications, though, and I didn't see them played much, even in casual.
The tribe has two unaligned members too, both interesting enough. Guttersnipe is very straightforward, and as such it's seeing play in the RDW kind of decks, since adding +2 damage to all your burn spells doesn't get unnoticed. (Wild Beastmater) is certainly not as strong, as to really shine she necessarily needs a power-up (namely some kind of equipment of the blade variety), since giving +1/+1 to all your team is nice for aggro, but killing that hapless 1/1 redhead isn't going to take long for the opponent. And at 3 mana, she's kinda overcosted.
Just a bunch of vanilla or French vanilla guys for the Elemental tribe, none of them very exciting, even in Limited; plus a couple of weirdoes. Nivmagus Elemental is a build-around-me creature that comes fast and grows big by turning your instants and sorceries into +1/+1 counters for him. The concept is cool and everything, but I strongly feel like you might actually want to resolve your instants and sorceries at any given time rather than maximizing your opponent's chances of X-to-1-ing you. The idea should be to go all-in on turn 2, possibly with free-to-cast spells like Gitaxian Probe and Gut Shot, but that seems a plan that can go horribly, horribly wrong. Wayfaring Temple, beside the silly fact that it's a damn walking building out of some silly Godzilla cartoon, is equally requiring a pretty specific build to function, namely the token galore suggested by the Selesnya mechanic, populate. It's essentially a mid- to late-game player, when your board presence is strong enough, token-wise. At that point, it gives you a vanilla body and the chance to populate repeatedly. If it manages to actually deal damage to your opponent. Which is something you can't really safely bet on. As said before, not a of of excitement from these neo-Ravnican Elementals.
Insect is Golgari's totem creature (as proved by their Keyrune), and as such, they are mostly posterboys for the scavenge mechanic (plus a hybrid functional reprint of vanilla stuff a la Fire Elemental, and the more defensive and mid-range descendant of good ol' Nantuko Shade). The scavengers here span from a definitely overcosted flyer, to a couple of actually good ratios between mana investment and resulting body. And while Drudge Beetle is a scavenging Grizzly Bears (with high scavenging cost, by the way), (Dreadbridge Goliath) is a 5/5 for 4, which is, well, exactly what a certain Djinn was back when he was saluted as the best creature ever. I guess times have changed a lot, because our Goliath here, which doesn't even dare to ask for something during the upkeep, and comes with an ability that might prove crucial in late game, far from being celebrated, has been mostly ignored.
Not a great deal of improvements for the 4th largest tribe in the game. The neo-Ravnican Spirits are mainly good for Limited (Vassal Soul is a quite high pick if you're building Azorius, but it's of course totally unremarkable elsewhere). Keening Apparition is the functional reprint of Kami of Ancient Law (with one of Terese Nielsen's alluring girls in place of Mark Tedin's hyperdetailed weirdness) and Ronom Unicorn, so there's that, at least for Standard's sideboards. The only one that might actually warrant some thoughts is Phantom General, just because it's a "token lord", although that mana cost and his weak body aren't really putting him in a position to compete with Intangible Virtue. Still, we all know creatures can be fetched, abused and manipulated better than enchantments, so our departed general might play some role in some constructed deck that cares about pumping tokens, and then pumping them some more.
Birds in neo-Ravnica are good. Not great, but good. Well, maybe not Runewing, since outside Limited you're not going to be willing to invest 4 mana in a 2/2 flyer that eventually may replace itself. But (Skymarc Roc)? Not a safe bet either, but if you keep him going, that's some serious tactical advantage on the board, and a 3/3 body is more like what you should expect for your 4-mana flyer. And last but definitely not least, Judge's Familiar transports Cursecatcher out of the Merfolk realm. And gives it wings! And the possibility to be played in monowhite! That's kinda huge. We're talking Legacy material here. That little guy has a career ahead of him.
All in all, Dragon tribe has a good time in Ravnica 2. Now, Utvara Hellkite feels like the typical overcosted red Dragon that nobody really uses because pulling it off is really only a casual player's dream, but in a Dragon tribal deck it actually kind of impacts the board immediately. Not memorable, but still better than usual. And of course, after Thundermaw Hellkite (by the way, I had predicted correctly in my M13 evaluation that it was going to be big!), the bar has been set very high for 5cc Dragons, but Hypersonic Dragon boldly accepts the challenge. His body is a bit smaller and he doesn't sweep Spirit tokens, Vendilion Cliques and such, but turning sorceries into instants is a nice bonus. In an Izzet Dragon deck, I'm not sure I'd run him over Spellbound Dragon, which digs into your deck and takes advantage of the high-costing creatures you'll have; but he's surely more playable in a generic, nontribal build. And speaking of Izzet, of course the mighty Niv-Mizzet is back, in a less combo-prone but possibly more all-around useful version.
Big news for the Dryads! Dryad Militant is a Savannah Lions with a cool bonus ability (which of course she's too frail to sustain as a graveyard-hating sideboard card, but it's still welcome), and it's going to become one of the pillars of a refurbished Dryad tribal deck. The Guildmage is cool, if a little laborious to really exploit. And then there's the new Selesnya guild leader, the impressive Trostani, the Triad Dryad. I kinda feel like the first impression has been took down a notch since when the Legendary trio has been first sighted, since it's not as easy to actually fits it into a deck as it would seem, in that everything Trostani does requires something else to happen with the deck (other creatures entering the battlefield, tokens to copy). But we're still talking of a very defensive 2/5 for 4 mana, albeit color-intensive, with the potential to fiercely fight burn (especially in a deck that already plays into the populate ability: think what happens if your follow up to Trostani is Captain of the Watch or Armada Wurm or Geist-Honored Monk), and to ensure an overwhelming late-game. Of course, the real challenge is make the (literal) tree-hugging triplet stick.
Two white Soldiers that's only good for Limited and to start showcasing the "Gates matter" concept, and likewise a red dude from the Rakdos guild that's only good to give a bit more punch to the unleash mechanic: thus passes the Giant tribe.
There aren't many Goblins in Ravnica, and they are all fairly unusual, but not bad: left to right, an Izzet-style, instant/sorcery enchancer; a burn deck wet dream; and some bizarre pinging defender which doesn't feel typical Gobbos.dek at all, but has seen frequent play in Limited. Truth be told, not a single one of these three seems well-positioned to be included in a Goblin tribal deck of any format, but there's possibly room to experiment a little in new directions, which is what I believe the R&D is trying to do with the red pests recently.
Unleash is a mechanic that generally looks more at home in Limited, especially in its high-cost occurrences. But the Horrors got two more members, more typically black (or hybrid black), with some potential. Slum Reaper in particular is an improved Fleshbag Marauder, where "improved" doesn't necessarily mean "stronger" (hitting the board one turn earlier seems more crucial here than having a bigger body, especially considering that most of the time the Reaper/Marauder gets sacrificed by its own effect), but at least the Horror tribe has now been provided with an unconditional Edict effect. And, to cap it off, Cryptborn Horror is a potentially sizeable trampler for 3, in the vein of bloodthirst (in fact, it essentially has bloodthirst X, with a bit of a multiplayer advantage). Of course, it's not really something you're ready to play on turn 3, but oh well. Horrors could do worse.
Aside from the exquisitely casual/Limited vigilant flasher (which isn't half bad in its genre, mind you), we have just two detaining Knights representing the Azorious guild's quite tactical mechanic. As a common, Isperia's Skywatch is horribly overcosted to the point of utter irrelevance, but Lyev Skyknight is fairly solid instead (same power, better effect, half the mana!), so there's that.
Plant is one of my favorite tribes, because, c'mon, it's so green! And when you look at it with the Golgari filter on, it's quite black too, with the whole death-and-rebirth concept, or the dark underground dwelling and all. Plus, the idea of a Zombie that arises from the more moist flora is very Swamp Thing. We got two of those here, both with the scavenge mechanic, and both good enough at that: Dreg Mangler is a 3/3 haste of 3, which earns it a home in aggressive Golgari builds; (Sliterhead) is even more fast and furious by allowing a very early discard (or chump block) that turns into a +1/+1 counter for no cost. The last one, Gatecreeper Vine, is interesting too, as low-cost land tutors always are in a variety of formats. The body is a bit underwhelming for a defender, and the tutoring puts the land in hand and not onto the battlefield, but its interaction with the Gates might prove to be the most essential one, provided that Dragon's Maze will step up the game a little on the whole concept.
Ah, the Wurms, the majestic incarnation of green's uber-creatures! They went a long way since their Craw Wurm days. In fact, when they're not just used as vanilla-like placeholder fatties to showcase a mechanic or just fill a space, they are mythic badasses! The kind of mythic cards that are actually popular: Armada Wurm is two 5/5 tramplers for 6 mana, plus populate/flicker shenanigans, which maybe doesn't make it Sun Titan good, but still good enough; and Worldspine Wurm is a high-profile fattie for sure, able to enter the top tier of Natural Order targets with its potential to provide a very fast clock and resist to any non-exiling spot removals and sweepers (and Swords to Plowshares putting you a +15 life still causes some concern to the opponent). They're both vastly superior than the old Ravnica's main Wurm, Autochthon Wurm (what is with Wurms always having Wurm in their names?), and prime candidates to any Wurm deck, or general fattie deck, exploiting cheating-into-play strategies (sadly, no reanimating tricks for the Worldspine, though, albeit instant reanimation works, since the shuffling isn't a replacement effect.)
Two Berserkers, two hasted guys at the opposite sides of the mana curve. Playable in a pinch, not particularly exciting in the least.
All right, I get that after Scars of Mirrodin block, they didn't want to add any more strong artifacts to the mix. But after Innistrad had deliciously flavorful yet utterly unplayable stuff (even in casual!) like Cellar Door and Graveyard Shovel, Return to Ravnica keeps the generic artifact power level very, very low. I mean, these two Constructs feel like jokes. "Auras attached to a land" has to be one of the more situational clause ever. And you can't really keep a straight face while putting Volatile Rig on the battlefield, to wait and see in which way it'll kill itself.
After the bountiful harvest of Demons that was Avacyn Restored, I wouldn't expect to get in RTR two of the strongest ever printed in recent times (Griselbrand notwithstanding). I already mentioned in my Demonpedia how the new Rakdos is a powerful member of the tribe that still needs an instruction manual to be properly used. And Desecration Demon (also in the updated Demonpedia) is a demonic star already, a fabulous early beater that you have to deal with fast or you'll be only allowing him to deplete your resources while delaying your doom.
Both the Elephants, of the humanoid, and Selesnya-aligned, Loxodon species, are also Soldiers. The common one is only noteworthy for having the more absurdly costed regeneration ability ever. The rare one is part of the "uncounterable cycle", an aggressively costed, anti-discard beater that's understandably seeing some play in several Constructed formats.
Imps, when played as a tribe in a dedicated deck, are good at enabling reanimation (since a good number of them doubles as discard outlets.) As such, Chaos Imps is a good addition, giving the Imps an in-tribe fattie that can be an impressive 7/6 flying trampler (which, for 6 mana, isn't even that bad a finisher per se.) The other one, a small flyer with lifelink, can be useful too, although it's mostly a good pick in drafts
Not a lot to be said of the Lizards here: overcosted scavenger that starts as a bland green common, and unimpressive pumper that you can forget about the second you stop looking at it.
I'm not sure that a 4/3 for 4 that you can essentially pay again in order to turn it into 4 damage to the opponent is any good; it still feels more deserving of attention than a 4/4 for 4 that might be able to actually attack if you play with bad dual lands. Poor Ogres, they never get it right.
Drainpipe Vermin is only a vaguely flavorful junk common, but Pack Rat, now, that's a lot of fun! And it works, it's fast, it discards stuff to be reanimated while invading the board. You have to deal with it very fast. As in right now! In Limited it is a bomb, in Constructed you can have fun with it and still not feeling dumb in the least. Rat tribe at its most topical.
Grim Roustabout is one of the most played unleash guys (the key is in its versatility of being either an early beater or a good blocker), but they're all mostly played in Limited only, so that's not particularly worth of any further comment. Still more than what Rakdos Ringleader is worth of, since that's just all-around terrible.
Two weird attempts at variations on the Sphinx more basic identity: flyers that draw you cards. But Sphinx of the Chimes' 4-for-2 ability is just unlikely to ever happen. And even the new Isperia, if you look closer, is disappointing: she doesn't guarantee any card drawing, she only kinda stops the opponent from attacking you until they find a way to deal with her. Ok, that's something, but she's not very resilient, and both these new members of the Sphinx family have to confront themselves with a 6-mana star like Consecrated Sphinx. Even Isperia looks bad in comparison (although she definitely looks better than her previous self, who was just insanely complicated and ineffectual).
Refer to the Zombie side of things to read about how Lotleth Troll is awesomeness incarnated. The other Troll, well, not so much: it does some good defensive stuff for 3 mana, but the regeneration effect is overpriced and the inability to attack is just lame.
The vast majority of the Vedalken tribe was featured in Mirrodin, Scars of Mirrodin, and Alara blocks, and they were always linked to the artifacts in a way or another. But there were a few in the original Ravnica block too, so there's a couple here too, in the form of two forgettable commons, one too mana-expensive to be worth anything, the other possibly getting some new boost if incorporated in the Dimir milling strategy with the release of Gatecrash. But honestly, I doubt it.
Yay for the Weirds! The original Izzet creatures from the first Ravnica block are back with a vengeance. As two fast hitters, one with an "instants and sorceries matter" fighting enhancement, the other a honest-to-God early defensive presence which can reveal some offensive capabilities through pumping later on. Admittedly, nothing to write home about, but not bad for a small, beloved tribe in desperate need of more playable members, and getting the two that were required in order to complete its ranks for a Legacy Tribal Wars-legal build without Changelings.
The one Advisor in RTR perfectly encapsulates what the Advisors should represent in the MTG universe: bureaucrats and politicians. Is it flavorful? Hell yeah. Is it powerful? Well, it's a Johnny, build-around-me card, so probably not, possibly a lot, especially after some tinkering down the line.
Just like for the Demons, it's somehow weird to get one new Angel that feels so powerful right after Avacyn Restored. The Angelpedia, and her secondary market quotations say it all: Angel of Serenity means serious business.
Once in a while, a new Archon is printed (there's now 6 of them). They're typically larger-than-life flyers with board-affecting abilities. In this case, Archon of the Triumvirate is not so large, but its double-the-Frost Titan effect is impressive enough to warrant an Archon status. Not the most effective of the lot at 7 mana, but pretty decent if you can make it stick around.
As far as fast unleash creatures go, this one is certainly good, deathtouch having a relevant effect in attack too. As far as Assassins go, though, it's not going to be listed among the most memorable ones.
A 1/1 lifelink for 1. Simple, straightforward, honest. If your only Cat was going to be filler, could have been worse. It's still pretty forgettable, of course.
Aside for this card, the Centaur tribe is represented through token-making cards, too (Call of the Conclave, Centaur's Herald, Coursers' Accord, Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage). This one is good, anyway, especially considering it's a common: a faster, power-reduced Obstinate Baloth. A creature providing lifegaining equal to the body and equal to its mana cost is always a good thing in every deck, tribal or otherwise.
The only Cleric is a Centaur. And what's said there could be repeated here, except possibly for the fact that Clerics have already plenty of lifegaining options to choose from.
If not for the fact that it's clearly a filler card, a 3/2 for 3 which can do an occasional lifelink strike isn't even that bad. And the Crocodile tribe isn't exactly famed for the high power level of its members.
After being kept on the backburner for ages, Devils are recently experiencing an impressive rebirth, spanning two blocks with very different flavors like Innistrad and Return to Ravnica, and even a core set. Here, they're given an aggressive 1-drop in the Savannah Lions tradition. Strong in Limited, but useful for the glory of the tribe too.
One of the Cinderella tribes, Drake is always the go-to creature type to fill common or uncommon quota while providing blue with playable flyers for Limited. Sometimes, like in this case, they're not even that much playable in the end.
Despite Selesnya's presence on this set, Druids are left with only one member. It's an interesting variation on Overgrown Battlement, slower and less effective as a defender but with the potential for color splashes. Admittedly, Druids didn't need any new way to generate mana, but defender ramp decks in Modern might.
Now, that's a big moose. And this is pretty much everything I have to say about a vanilla 6/7 for 7.
She's not actually a bad Faerie. But she's not one the other Faeries would rely too much upon, either. Still, fast recasting shenanigans in exchange of a 2/1 flyer. Not bad, as we were saying.
This card smells of Mark Rosewater's design so clearly! And it's a nice one, in that you get a 4/4 for 4, which is more than reasonable, while you're trying to further your doubling seasoning agenda. The shenanigans using only creature counters are limited, but there's still good stuff to do. High profile casual occasionally finding its way into Constructed.
Griffins (and Pegasi) are for white what Drakes are for blue: stuff that flies, fills a hole in the card sheet, and occasionally gets picked in drafts. I can't even tell if this one is a functional reprint of another one (it's not. How are they able to keep coming up with new combinations of power, toughness and casting cost for a low-curve, flying body?)
The 8th Homunculus ever printed, and it plays into the same "defender matters" concept of Axebane Guardian. As such, they make a strong pair in Limited, giving Doorkeeper the chance to mill out the opponent's deck pretty fast. Constructed-wise, it's a fast, solid defender that protects you enough to allow for your milling and/or defender-based strategies to settle in. I don't know if that means it's any good, but it's something not to immediately dismiss, especially in light of what the Dimirs are up to in Gatecrash.
The old pun from the original Nightmare (ideally spelled as "night mare", despite the fact that the word for "female horse" has actually an entirely different etymology) never got old (or did it?), so in late 2012 we're still getting equine monstrosities with the Nightmare and Horse subtypes. This said, a 6/5 hasted first striker for 6 is a legit finisher, if not exactly Titan-level. It's not going to be seen a lot outside of casual, but at least it's not outright terrible.
This could have been actually very good, especially for a Hound, if it were a 4-mana rare. Wasted opportunity. As it is, it's just cute. But it might be warranted a place in some Hound deck.
The stats for this defender are actually pretty good, and play well in the "defender matters" subtheme (see Axebane Guardian, Doorkeeper). In the larger picture, though, it's not something you want to run a lot, albeit still solid, particularly where you don't have access to Wall of Denial (and why you don't? Splash that damn white!) As an Illusion, anyway, is nothing the rest of the tribe will cheer for.
If you want a big, scary, if fragile Minotaur, I guess that's your guy. After all, you'll have Didgeridoo to put him onto the battlefield without paying all that mana.
See the Horse description. So, these kinds of Nightmares are all female, then?
The mighty Oozes are back! Make us dream, MaRo! Mmm, a boltable 3/3 for 5 that can grow only if you use it as a sacrifice outlet, and you even have to pay mana to activate it? C'mon, MaRo! You can do better!
See Griffin. Rinse, repeat. Will this ever change?
The Rhox are from Alara, aren't they? So, in Ravnica, the Rhinos are actual animals, I guess. This one is hard to kill, but that's it, a French vanilla beater too expensive for Constructed.
The 4th Scorpion online. They apparently still want to have a Scorpion type in the game, and since scorpions aren't insects, they need to have their own subtype (they're arachnids, so it might have been better to merge them with the Spiders at some point.) This one isn't even bad, deathtouch and scavenge is an effective pairing. Still 4 mana for a 2/2, though, which is far from optimal.
I'm not sure why a herald is a Scout, nor why she has to die in order to convince a Centaur to join her cause. Anyway, the result is good in Limited, not so brilliant but potentially playable in Constructed.
We saw how there was a glorious precedent with a Shade that was also an Insect. For this descendant, they did the classic "double the effect, double the body, double the cost" deal. Which is usually a downgrade, in the end. Especially when the body went all defensive, for some reason.
I know that even the legendary BlippyTheSlug was severely disappointed by this new specimen of the tribe. And yeah, it's a terrible vanilla dude. But look at the bright side: it's the first new Slug ever printed since Coldsnap. This means the subtype is still around. In order to get the Mythic Legendary Slug we all crave for, we might have to endure stinkers like this one. (Plus, I actually played with Catacomb Slug in a Slug deck, and it's a great blocker!)
Big Spider for a bigger cost in what feels like a big case of filler syndrome.
Vampires are Dimir guys, so it's not a surprise they're not really supported in RTR (Gatecrash does some more with them, indeed). Still, the one we get here is a strong Mythic for sure. The measure of a fattie, especially when you deal with Titan mana, is its ability to impact the board immediately by either posing a threat that's bound to stick around, or by having an effect that can't be taken away by removal. In this case, the immediate effect can be negated by an instant removal, but there's a fair chance you'll get to attack with your team at least once with Necropolis Regent on the board, and that can switch the position in a crucial way, with the right deck. Plus, the Regent still belongs to the tier-2 of fatties: you either deal with it fast, or you're going to be dead before saying "how does that work again?"
Viashino is another of those subtypes that keep coming back over the course of the years, despite being absent for long stretches of time. This one isn't exactly memorable, even as a fast discard outlet (since it's not that fast, or that relevant besides the effect), but it's good to see the lizard-like guys again once in a while (they could have given this same ability to a Goblin, for instance.)
Once defender was defined as a standalone ability not linked to the creature type, Walls have become scarcer and scarcer. They're still a big part of the Magic history, though, so I guess they will never really stop printing them. This one is a good aerial barrier for 3 mana, probably better than most of the past variants. But, in all honesty, that's just it.
BEST IN SHOW