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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Mar 17 2016 12:00pm
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Welcome back to the Modern Flashback Series! Hopefully Ninth Edition treated you all well—I needed a break, even though my Saviors of Kamigawa article unexpectedly went up on schedule. There is one lasting impact from the confusion though: there is a “one article per week” rule. As such, my large set articles are going to end up being longer than normal—for instance, this article is over three thousand words. However, the draft schedule actually helps me out a bit on that, as Time Spiral, the next large set (and one that probably would balloon to five-thousand words if I said all I wanted to say), actually shows up right after the break for Shadows over Innistrad release events! That means the three week break for the Modern Flashback Series can easily be filled by a two-part article for my Eternal Masters design, then the first part of my Time Spiral article—I'm sure my editor will be thankful. Anyway, back to the limited analysis!
 
Ravnica is next up in the Modern Flashback Series, and it's certainly the most unique block we've seen so far. The basic premise of the block is simple: Ravnica is a multicolor-focused block, but centered specifically on the ten two-color pairs. However, the color pairs are not evenly distributed. Instead, Ravnica has four color pairs (UB/Dimir, GW/Selesnya, BG/Golgari, RW/Boros), while the other two sets in the block will each have three. Each of those color pairs also has a mechanic that only appears in those colors, and no mechanic appears in every color (except for hybrid mana, which was introduced in this set). While that will have interesting implications once we get to the full block, right now it means you have a heavy incentive to either draft one of the supported color pairs or draft a three-color (or more) deck. Now, let's get to the mechanics overview:
 
Shred Memory Drift of Phantasms Brainspoil
Transmute:
Blue and black are two of the colors that draw cards and tutor, so Dimir gets a mechanic that lets them tutor. While this is a useful tool to have, there isn't really a way you can build around it. The more bombs you have, the more Transmute cards you want. However, since most of the Transmute cards are situational (Brainspoil being a notable exception), that flexibility is a tradeoff.
 
Conclave Equenaut Gather Courage Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi
Convoke:
Selesnya makes a lot of small tokens (Saprolings and Spirits), and Convoke is an interesting way to leverage that theme. However, you don't have to be using tokens to make Convoke very good, as the acceleration of turning a couple real creatures into (Elvish Mystics) is generally good enough. The best thing about Convoke is that it doesn't cost that much mana in most cases—compare Conclave Equenaut to Angel of Mercy, or Gather Courage to Giant Growth. Gather Courage brings up another point: it and Devouring Light are both important instants that can be cast for free off Convoke.
 
Golgari Brownscale Moldervine Cloak Stinkweed Imp
Dredge:
Wait, don't run away! Dredge in limited isn't anything like the combo engine you find in eternal formats. Instead, it's a grindy card advantage engine with things like Golgari Brownscale. However, the problem is that the library cost is meaningful in a format of 40-card decks, especially the ones that more directly generate card advantage like Stinkweed Imp and Golgari Thug. Having been bitten by an awful Dredge archetype in the original Modern Masters, I'd stay away from building around Dredge if you're new to the format.
 
Rally the Righteous Wojek Embermage Bathe in Light
Radiance:
So far the mechanics in Ravnica block have been a quirky mechanic that led to a powerful card next block (Tolaria West), a solid mechanic that's appeared multiple times, and one of the most intrinsically broken mechanics in larger formats. And then there's Radiance, which you've probably never heard of. While a color-matters mechanic is a fine idea for a multicolor block (even one focused on just two colors), it isn't exactly the best flavor fit for the battle and war-centered red-white guild. Gameplay-wise the mechanic doesn't fare much better, since it's two different experiences based on whether the effect is helpful or harmful. The helpful effects can be built around, but just aren't priced that competitively (Rally the Righteous being a notable exception, though it just ends up being a Trumpet Blast that can surprise attackers). The harmful effects are unreliable, but have to be priced such that they could affect an opponent's entire team (most ridiculously with Brightflame, which admittedly might still be worth it at that cost). However, that doesn't even cover the biggest problem with the mechanic: like most effects at the time, Radiance hits both players' permanents for both the helpful and harmful effects. This wasn't a big deal at the time, but the players new to the format will likely be surprised when Wojek Embermage kills off your own Spirits in addition to your opponent's.
 
Boros Recruit Flight of Fancy Dowsing Shaman
Other Themes/Mechanics:
Ravnica had one other mechanic that wasn't a guild mechanic: hybrid mana. The implementation was limited (each supported color pair has a vertical cycle), but it was a good start to one of the most popular mechanics. Other than that, one theme you'll see a lot through the entire Ravnica block is a minor enchantment theme, with a focus on Auras (as they had just been changed from the original “Enchant ~” labeling in Ninth Edition). Many things care about being enchanted, and there is a cycle of auras with powerful enters-the-battlefield effects. Finally, there are a lot of cycles that persist through the entire block, and we'll end up covering most of the non-rare ones as they're almost all universally powerful.
 
Now we're finally to the color analysis, but the multicolor theme means I'll have to cover it slightly differently. I'll start by covering the colors (and colorless) as normal, but when I get to the color pairs I'll cover the four featured color pairs in more detail, combining the card analysis of the mono-color sections with the common/archetype analysis I started doing in my Kamigawa reviews. However, after that, I'll need to talk about what happens when you play three (or more) colors (spoilers: this is easily possible in this set).
 
Faith's Fetters Veteran Armorer Auratouched Mage
White:
Commons Uncommons
White is one of the colors most closely tied to the enchantment theme. Even when you just look at common, there is a direct tie-in to the theme (Gate Hound, though I'm pretty sure that isn't playable), creatures that like to be enchanted (Courier Hawk, and the best card is an enchantment (Faith's Fetters, which is basically an Oblivion Ring that gains you life). Other than the enchantment theme, I've already mentioned Conclave Equenaut's efficiency, and Veteran Armorer has a surprisingly powerful rider on a Glory Seeker, especially for common. The uncommon creatures are also very powerful: Auratouched Mage is a 2-for-1 even before you consider the enters-the-battlefield cycle of Auras (though admittedly you probably don't want to fetch a Faith's Fetters with it), Conclave Phalanx is another efficient Convoke creature, and Bathe in Light can be a protection spell or a way to clear a board stall.
 
Vedalken Dismisser Vedalken Entrancer Belltower Sphinx
Blue:
Commons Uncommons
Blue is in a weird place in Ravnica, as only one guild is aligned with it (Dimir), a trait shared only with red in this set. As such, it has more commons (20 versus 15) but surprisingly fewer uncommons (10 versus 12). Unfortunately those commons aren't of the highest quality. Sure, cards like Snapping Drake, Vedalken Dismisser, and Compulsive Research, but those commons are matched by many more lows, even before you count the blanks like Grayscaled Gharial and Zephyr Spirit. One common whose power isn't obvious is Vedalken Entrancer: the Horned Turtle stats aren't awful, and it's a win condition by itself, even before you consider Dimir's minor mill theme. The uncommons aren't much better once you get past Belltower Sphinx unfortunately, so unless the Dimir gold cards change things, it's looking like you'll want to avoid blue.
 
Dimir House Guard Last Gasp Ribbons of Night
Black:
Commons Uncommons
Black continues the trend of being a disappointing color, at least in the creatures. When Stinkweed Imp is easily the best creature, with Dimir House Guard following behind (or possibly Roofstalker Wight if you have enough blue). However, as always, black is saved by its removal. Last Gasp and Brainspoil are all stars as expected, Clinging Darkness is fine (especially with the enchantment theme), and even Disembowel isn't that bad (even if you're guaranteed to pay more than your opponent did in basically every instance). That trend continues into the uncommons, as the creatures are generally bad, even if Mausoleum Turnkey and Keening Banshee are both good cards. However, the best uncommon is another removal spell: Ribbons of Night. Draining a creature for 4 is already a better rate than Essence Drain, a great removal spell already (though Ribbons of Night can't hit players), and that's before you add in the bonus for casting it with a blue mana (and you probably will have blue somewhere in your deck—but more on that in a bit).
 
Viashino Fangtail Galvanic Arc Flash Conscription
Red:
Commons Uncommons
Wait—after the horrors that were blue and black's creatures, are red's creature's even worse? Red is the other color that is only aligned with one guild in Ravnica (Boros), and just like blue the commons are extremely top-heavy. Viashino Fangtail is a great pinger (though the double-red cost hurts it a lot in this block), but after that, Sparkmage Apprentice isn't the highest quality for a second-best choice. However, the most-telling sign is I legitimately have no clue what the third-best creature would be—Sell-Sword Brute might actually be the pick, though Viashino Slasher might be worth it as a virtual 2/1 that synergizes well with all the toughness-boosting in white (the color you're probably pairing with red). Unlike black the removal isn't that great either. Sure, Galvanic Arc is a fine card, but the problem is that you can easily be 2-for-1'd (which is a problem with all the enters-the-battlefield Auras, and part of why Faith's Fetters is the best one). After that, Fiery Conclusion isn't awful, but Dogpile needs to be built around (the fact that it needs attackers makes it compare badly to Outnumber even before you consider the mana cost). The uncommons tell a similar story: the best card is a pinger (Wojek Embermage), there's a good removal spell (Cleansing Beam), and the rest aren't that good—Indentured Oaf is hurt by the multicolor theme (though the poor state of red actually helps it somewhat, at least in Ravnica), and Flash Conscription's power as a Ray of Command is hurt by its punishing mana cost.
 
Scatter the Seeds Bramble Elemental Carven Caryatid
Green:
Commons Uncommons
As always, green makes up for its lack of removal by actually getting good creatures. I've already talked about how all the Convoke creatures are good (well, maybe not the one that costs fifteen mana), but the best Convoke card technically isn't even a creature. Scatter the Seeds' synergy with Convoke should be obvious, as it allows the token engine to become explosive much earlier than expected, even with natural token makers like Fists of Ironwood. Speaking of enchantments, Bramble Elemental is one of the best incentives to go hard into enchantments, as the starting rate isn't awful and the payoff is what you want in Selesnya anyway. The biggest surprise in green is just how much ramp it has besides Convoke—four cards are tied into ramp, including high-quality variants on Elvish Mystic (Elves of Deep Shadow) and Rampant Growth (Farseek). If I have to lodge a complaint against green it's that the uncommons aren't anything special, and when that includes an Overrun effect (Overwhelm, though the lack of trample hurts it a lot), Moldervine Cloak (which is apparently a great recursive pump effect, even if it wasn't that great in Modern Masters—presumably it's better since the creatures are generally worse), and Carven Caryatid (which is a great rate, even for a creature with defender—note that those are much better with Convoke in the format), that's still pretty good compared to the non-white colors.
 
Selesnya Signet Dimir Aqueduct Svogthos, the Restless Tomb
Colorless:
Commons Uncommons
While Ravnica is the first set since Mirrodin block to have common colorless cards, at first glance they don't look like much: just two cycles of color-fixers and Terrarion. However, the Signets and bouncelands are two of the most defining fixtures of Ravnica block, and warp the format around them. The signets help with color-fixing, but just as importantly they give each color an easily accessible form of ramp (which is why green's ramp is such high quality—it's an attempt to compete with the Signets). Amazingly, the bouncelands are even more powerful fixing, as one off-color bounceland allows you to fix multiple colors at once. They also allow you to shave cards off your land count even if they aren't fixing your mana, so you'll easily play the first three or so you get, and as such they're your most common first pick, over everything but bomb rares or the best removal. Finally, it means land destruction is better than it normally is—killing a bounceland is such a tempo swing that Barbarian Riftcutter is probably the actual third-best red common (because it's a creature in addition to the land destruction). These two cycles are why three-color decks are some of the most-common decks (especially when we get to the full-block format), and why you can splash most bomb rares you open—but on the other hand, it means Seismic Spike is something that can be sideboarded when your opponent's being especially greedy.
 
Unfortunately, the uncommon colorless cards can't stand up to some of the best commons for limited ever—shocking, I know. The irony is that a lot of the cards aren't as good because of those commons—Spectral Searchlight is just outclassed by Signets unless you need all five colors (and because you can't mana burn your opponent anymore with it), and while the Guildhouses all have powerful effects for lands (except for the Dimir one, though even that's technically a wincon), but since they're colorless lands, they don't fit well into three or four color decks that will become expected through the block. Of course, that excuse doesn't explain cards like Leashling or Cyclopean Snare.
 
Now, as I said before, I'll go all the color pairs with a focus on the supported guilds. However, keep in mind that you'll rarely just have two colors, especially an unsupported pair.
 
Consult the Necrosages Dimir Infiltrator Moroii
Blue/Black (Dimir):
(Gold) Commons Uncommons
The Dimir combines the two purest forms of card advantage (draw and discard), which is represented in multiple ways, such as Consult the Necrosages and Dimir Guildmage. Moroii and Twisted Justice are also two powerful gold uncommons. Unfortunately, card advantage doesn't win limited games of Magic if your creatures are awful. The other problem is that most of Dimir's best cards are easily splashable, and you don't get any benefit for building around Transmute. There is a mill sub-theme in Dimir that you could build around, but the good mill cards can stand alone (like Vedalken Entrancer, while the pure mill cards aren't that good (like Psychic Drain).
 
Centaur Safeguard Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi Selesnya Guildmage
Green/White (Selesnya):
(Gold) Commons Uncommons
In contrast to Dimir, all of Selesnya's gold cards either are creatures, care about creatures and/or tokens, or both. The power level is also higher, as would be expected from the two best creatures colors. The increased power level is both on the low end (Centaur Safeguard is a fine creature, while Seeds of Strength is a flexible combat trick) and the high-end (Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi is a gigantic common that stabilizes the ground against anything but a fellow Selesnya deck, while Selesnya Guildmage is probably the best non-rare creature in the set (and competes with Ribbons of Night for the top overall). That's the general story of Selesnya: the raw power level of the cards is high, and they synergize together extremely well thanks to Convoke. As such, a streamlined Selesnya deck is the best deck in the format by a mile. Of course, everyone else knows that, so you'll have to compete for it, but if you get some early Scatter the Seeds or a Selesnya Guildmage it's worth fighting for.
 
Shambling Shell Golgari Rotwurm Putrefy
Green/Black (Golgari):
(Gold) Commons Uncommons
Golgari also likes card advantage, but it does so in a much more grindy way than Dimir does, as it has to scrounge for its advantages rather than getting them directly. While I expected the inherent problems with Dredge in limited from its appearance in Modern Masters, there's a bigger problem: Golgari (and the gold cards in particular) get a lot of their value from sacrificing creatures. It comes back to the biggest change since Ravnica was originally a format: damage doesn't use the stack anymore. That means, for example, you can't block with a Shambling Shell, send out its damage, then sacrifice to buff one of your other creatures (possibly letting it survive a potential trade). This takes a lot of the power out of cards like Golgari Rotwurm and Drooling Groodion, putting more pressure on the cards with more raw power like Putrefy—but those cards are more easily splashable. Overall, Golgari is better than it looks at first glance (since the gold cards still have a lot of power, and the combination of green's creatures with black's removal is good), but I'm worried the people fighting for Selesnya will take all your creatures.
 
Thundersong Trumpeter Skyknight Legionnaire Lightning Helix
Red/White (Boros):
(Gold) Commons Uncommons
I've mentioned that Radiance is a complete bust as a mechanic, but that doesn't mean Boros isn't the Boros you'd expect. Boros is still an aggressive color, as shown by its least-aggressive gold card being Sunhome Enforcer a 2/4 for 4 with pseudo-Lifelink and pseudo-firebreathing. Everything else is either a 2-drop (or 1-drop) or has haste. In fact, that's why I was so high on the 2-drops in my red review—I knew this is what Boros (the only red guild) wanted to do. Boros has all the tools you would need for a “go wide” strategy, with the exception of the token-making (which was almost entirely in green for Selesnya, probably to avoid propping up Boros). I think Boros is a lot stronger than it looks in draft, since everyone else is going to want to draft four colors with all their gold cards (especially in the Flashback draft environment), so you can run them over.
 
White/Blue:
Fliers is the normal WU archetype, but since Snapping Drake is the only good flier (since you don't want to play enough creatures for Conclave Equenaut), I don't think it's good enough here. Instead, I think WU wants to go the control route, with all the high-toughness creatures like Drift of Phantasms and Benevolent Ancestor. This is also where the mill cards would go, possibly with a black splash for things like the black rider on Induce Paranoia.
 
Black/Red:
No. All of your creatures are awful, and all of your removal will be taken by the greedy players. Stay far far away.
 
Red/Green:
Surprisingly, I think this deck could work. All of the ramp in green (paired with Signets) combined with the land destruction in red (and artifact destruction—Smash is a card when everyone is playing Signets) could make a RG ramp deck work. Alternatively, RG is the best color combination for Dogpile, though that might be better as a splash for an average (Selesnya) deck.
 
White/Black:
Another color combination I don't know what to do with. Maybe this color has enough fliers to make Necromantic Thirst work? I'd say it's the best for an enchantment theme, but most of the enchantments are harmful, and thus don't work best with, say, Auratouched Mage. At least this color has enough pure card quality so it isn't a disaster if you end up in it (though look for splashes—green is a good one since it pairs with both your colors).
 
Blue/Red:
The UR archetype should be the deepest of the ones not aligned with guilds since it has the most commons, but I've already talked about the lack of depth in both colors. There are certainly minor themes that can be derived from the combination (notably Drake Familiar combined with Flight of Fancy and Galvanic Arc), but I'd wait a set for this combination to work.
 
Green/Blue:
Actually, this could be the ramp archetype—ramping into multiple Vedalken Dismissers, or even just a turn three Snapping Drake is better than anything red would provide. Of all the non-guild color pairs, this is the one I'm most interested in trying.
 
Before I go, another call for reader participation: is there a demand for more limited videos from me? I'm still thinking of doing some drafts (because Ravnica is a more interesting format that I'm at least somewhat familiar with), but I know my production quality on the recordings is very bad (mostly since my setup isn't optimized for it). I also wouldn't mind some input on my preliminary Eternal Masters design—I finally have the archetypes sketched out, but I'm not at fifty percent of the slots filled in yet (and I also still need to figure out my rare/mythic distribution/EV, even if that isn't the focus of the design, as that's all people will focus on). Anyway, next time we move on to the next three guilds in Guildpact.
 
Vincent

 

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