Children of yesterday
Heirs of to-morrow,
What are you weaving--
Labor and sorrow?
Look to your looms again;
Faster and faster
Fly the great shuttles
Prepared by the Master.
Life’s in the loom,
Room for it– room!
from "A Song of Hope" by Mary A. Lathbury
There's a lot to be hopeful about in Return to Ravnica. I have not seen preorder prices for boxes go up this soon since Future Sight and the Zendikar treasures. Those boxes are going to be packed with money. What's also cool is that this set is going to get people brewing with their favorite color schemes and trying out old favorites. These favorites aren't going to be winners, but it'll get things moving. One of the best recent examples for me was the rise and failure of rebooted Solar Flare. If you were not around for Solar Flare the first time, it was a deck that ran six Signets. That's the defining factor of it. It had reanimation and discard elements, but what made the deck actually good was that it had four mana on the third turn a lot of the time. Many brewers, however, looked back with rosy glasses and just saw the reanimation that Unburial Rites creates and went with that. Solar Flare drove prices of Liliana of the Veil sky-high for a few weeks at the beginning until people realized that the deck was not going to do what we thought it would.
I expect many reboots from the older Ravnica era to resurface throughout this block. I also expect a lot of early riffs on deckbuilding from a lot of people. My advice on early trading is this: treat your RTR cards that you acquire in a month to be purely short-term holds in terms of trading. You'll encounter many players who must have Card X to complete their brew. Sure, in six weeks they'll glumly give up on whatever it was, but now, they want whatever you've got in that binder. Even the first month's worth of events won't exactly be telling - it took so long to figure out Caw-Blade and Delver, for example, and even Wolf-Run Ramp took some time to be proven. In the meantime, people are going to try decks out. Keep your stock moving and don't dip too heavily into anything that's not shocklands (as if people are going to trade those away anyway!).
In general, deck memory will also plague builders because the manabases are a little harder than they were when we were first in Ravnica. "But Doug," you say, "there are a crazy number of checklands! That's great!" to which I reply yes, but there are no signets. Signets allowed for truly busted expansion. Standard also had painlands, which sucked because they were bad, but they were also guaranteed to make mana when they landed. Thus, decks like the Black Hand list and Ghost Dad, both of which were White/Black, could make dependable and aggressive curves. The lack of painlands and checklands means that it will be a lot harder to splash for a third color and have it pay off immediately. Mike Flores' deck, That Girl, which he's all too fond of, ran three colors with Firemane Angels and Compulsive Research. That's a brutal manabase to pull off these days, even with an assortment of checklands. You run into a number with them, like with the filter lands of Lorwyn, where the pain of having two in the opening hand is just brutal in a three-color deck. Mark my words: people are going to make the mistake of thinking that things like Supreme Verdict (the 1WWU Wrath) will just slide right into their decks that splash blue (or white) and they'll die with Wraths in hand.
Now I KNOW that we've only seen 70 or so new cards, but we already know a lot about these guilds and their eventual playability. We're going to look at them and ponder the long-term positions on these guilds.
Izzet: Lots of Bluster, Not Much Substance
Aside from Izzet Charm, there's nothing in this guild that tells us that we can build around it and win. The Overload spells are nice - I want to especially call your attention to Cyclonic Rift, which will see lots of play. But aside from Niv-Mizzet, where are the cool finishers? How do we capitalize on tempo from the Rift? Izzet was this goofy guild for Johnny, full of cranky scientists who couldn't make any spells worth casting. I don't think it'll change this time around, based on what has been spoiled. U/R is too powerful of a combination if you make it great.
More on Cyclonic Rift: 1U is a fair price to pay for a bounce spell. We paid 1U when we had Aether Burst because in time, you'd get the crazy tempo blowouts. This makes for a decent stall card but it also doubles as a giant, Instant-speed reset for the opposing team. This card is big. It's very, very easy to splash for and pay off. I like Mizzium Mortars a lot but Cyclonic Rift looks like all that and more. You can even endstep it on an opponent with a nearly-full grip and make them discard most of what you bounced. People hit Cruel Ultimatum all the time in Standard with no acceleration and strict color requirements. Seven mana to get everything off your back is a fair plan.
Golgari: Packed with Role Players
Now we're talking about a role reversal from last time! The mere existence of Abrupt Decay is going to pull people to the Golgari tribe. Vraska, whose ultimate is a lot like the whistle-killers in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, is also obvious and tempting. Golgari is halfway to a deck already, thanks to its solid midrange cards. You have heard a lot about Woodland Cemetery, but I should also remind you of Twilight Mire. It's wise to keep an eye on all of the Jund cards in Modern because Jund is a popular and pro-backed deck that is going to really benefit from Abrupt Decay. Anything that Rakdos and Golgari come up with will be a great extra for the deck. The BG Impulse, Grisly Salvage, is very exciting, too.
Azorius: This Guild Will Never Live Up To Your Hopes
Again, where are our great finishers? This question matters; there are many excellent sweepers and a lot of Magic is won by big monsters or guy + Sword these days. The only real exceptions that I can think of are the Pod decks that didn't make Sun Titans or Elesh Norn and the Zombie decks that use attrition to nail people with Geralf's Messenger. It's sad but all that has come along so far is more big and awful Sphinxes. Restoration Angel and Snapcaster Mage are going to be the core of tempo for a long time, to be sure. Azorius Signet and Cyclonic Rift are going to be gigantic pains in your ass if you want to do meaningful things with monsters or tokens. I am doubtful that the card quality that Ponder gave us will be repeated in any form. Jace 4.0 is not a Consecrated Sphinx, that's for sure. Supreme Verdict is a holy and powerful Wrath of God, but a.) we're not seeing really any playable counters and b.) the Azorius color combo is really creature-heavy these days and might not want to wipe out their own Angels to kill other monsters.
Rakdos: Because Blighting Being Good Was A Fluke
The Unleash mechanic is just there for Limited. Nothing that Rakdos is making is exciting to me. If Rakdos Charm had totally crazy abilities, like destroying a land, I don't think it would get much play! There is so little in both Red and Black to reward us for playing that color combination. It's unfortunate. What's still good is Falkenrath Aristocrat. You must keep an eye on this thing. Haste is a big deal in the world of all this bounce and sorcery-speed killing. Gut Shot and Mortarpod are gone, which means that this has a much better chance of cruising in for 4 or 8.
Selesnya: The New Clock For Standard
Like a cheese course at the end of the meal, the best is saved for last. I have seen amazing things from this guild in just a handful of cards. Dryad Militant is a serious threat on its own. Remember, Ravnica was also threatened by turn-one Isamaru, Hound of Konda. You saw that and you knew you were in for a fast fight. You see Dryad Militant, this crazy, gun-toting militia member pop up on the first turn, Gadsden flag in hand, and you're on that same clock. You're going to spend at least two mana to kill her or you'll get munched by her friends. There will be nightmare scenarios from Selesnya decks that start with an opening Dryad Militant or Slitherhead and then follow into a Selesnya Charm knight or Precinct Captain and just continue with Wayfaring Temples. That's a serious amount of monster power. I grant that G/W has been typically the worst aggressive color combo (because it lacks draw or staying power against sweepers) but you are going to see a lot of this deck at the beginning. It tends to build itself. You have seen a lot of love for Izzet, but Selesnya is going to really pull the FNM crowd out with token insanity.
Tell me where you see the guilds developing! What we will be pulling forward from Innistrad? What would it take for you to play Rakdos spells?
Until next week,
P.S. I'd like to ask for your pardon that this did not get published yesterday and I do hope its quality surpasses its tardiness.