Robert Chesley

Our Duels – Returning to Ravnica

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Return to Ravnica the newest set for the nearly two decade old Magic: the Gathering came out this past Friday. I finally got my hands on some of the new cards and kicked the tires a bit with a few rounds of Sealed deck. I feel this is the best way to experience a new set is to just jump right in and play sealed deck. It gives you an idea how the set mechanics work and it gives you a reason to play a bunch of cards that you may never get a shot at in a big time format like Standard or Modern.

Return to Ravnica is a sequel of sorts to one of Magic’s most successful expansions of all time, Ravnica: City of Guilds. This time instead of seeing a big-little-little format that kind of short changed each of the 10 color-paired guilds, we are seeing two big sets that will each spotlight five guilds in each of them and then gives them all additional cards in the final set in the block. I feel this is a slightly better way to accommodate not only a good limited format, but it will give each guild a spot to shine on it’s own.

The guild pairs this time around will feature Golgari (Green/Black), Azorius (White/Blue), Rakdos (Black/Red), Selesnya (Green/White), and Izzet (Blue/Red). Personally, I’m a Dimir (Blue/Black) fan myself, but we’ll have to wait until winter to sneak through Ravnica’s undercity quietly controlling the fate of plane. So for my first sealed deck I kept a few things in mind that I recalled from my first trip through Ravnica.

1. Mana Fixing. This is one of the reasons so many players loved the first Ravnica block. The set featured very aggressive ways to allow you to play the color combinations you want. In fact, with the right pool, you can easily play 4 or 5 color decks that have the consistency of 2 color decks.

2. Keywords. Each of the guilds has a new keyword associated with them. Some are better than others, but I was surprised at how well all the keywords worked the first time and they streamlined it a lot more this time around.

3. Don’t sleep on the Mono colored cards. Some of my favorite cards in Ravnica were the simple Mono-colored cards that were a little overlooked for the admittedly flashy multicolored guild cards.

Shredding open my packs and my first preliminary sort through the colors and the guilds, I was thoroughly impressed by how deep each color went. Out of the six packs I think I only placed about 10 or 12 cards off to the side through the first glance. Narrowing it down, I noticed that I had a good proportion of my cards in white and green as well as a number of playables in black and green. While I didn’t open up the best in mana fixing, I felt confidant that I could play a mostly Selesnya deck while splashing for the Golgari cards that I wanted. Namely, guild master Jarad.

We played a few rounds with the sealed deck. Samantha was running straight up Rakdos (the R/B guild on Ravnica) and had a nice quick, aggressive deck. We played pretty evenly. Even though Samantha is a relatively new player, she’s great at building good sealed decks. She overpowered me a few games and I tweaked my deck slightly. I felt that my deck was lacking a creature so I went ahead and added another 2-drop creature to my deck and we played a few more rounds. I still felt the decks were relatively even, though I pulled away with most of the victories after that change.

Overall, we had a great time with this romp through Ravnica, below I am including Samantha’s thoughts on the experience. I feel the set overall has a great feel to it, for new and older players alike. The two color guilds make deckbuilding comparatively “easy” in a sealed setting. Something that I greatly appreciate. I like when there are tools laid out for you and it is easy to pick up on a direction for your deck. Not all limited formats offer this kind of flexability.

We are also looking forward to Gatecrash (which will feature the other 5 guilds on Ravnica, namely Samantha’s Orzhov and my Dimir guilds).

Samantha’s take:

I rely on my husband for news of all kinds. We don’t have cable and I am firmly of the belief that my knowledge or lack of knowledge about world events is not going to change those world events. Fine, I’m lazy. I’m so lazy that my husband even goes to the trouble of forming my opinions for me. He provides me not only with content, but with what I should think about that content. He tells me that Mitt Romney is so rich he cannot understand poor people and that there is no way I am voting for Mitt Romney. He tells me that there is (was?) some football referee strike and that fans were up in arms about the refs’ calls. He also tells me that football regulations are so extensive that any call by any ref could potentially be challenged; he tells me that I think football fans are overly sensitive about the substitute referees. My husband also tells me that there is a new Magic: The Gathering set and that the set is organized into guilds and that my guild is Black/Green: Golgari.

As with all other presentations my husband provides me about world news, I initially nod my head, not knowledgeable enough to disagree: I’ve never really liked green, but I have only once made the choice not to play black. And that was disastrous. Eventually my husband shows me GuildsofRavnica.com. I flatly refuse to involve myself in the plant and insect guild and instead am attracted to Black/White: Orzhov. “The guild is run like a combination religion, credit-lending agency, and crime syndicate.” Perfect. Very traditional, very much a representation of real history and real means to obtaining power.

I’m getting you excited for nothing. It turns out that Orzhov isn’t in the recently released set. I found this out when Rob brought home 12 packs of cards today so we could play our own sealed “tournament.” Rob had a hard time choosing cards as he always does: he likes all of them and it’s all he can do to stop himself from just piling all six of his packs into one giant deck. I had a clear decision: a giant stack of Red/Black: Rakdos cards, all of which were pretty aggressive. “The Rakdos Cult is a large group of hedonists, sadists, criminals, and psychopaths…” No wonder I was immediately attracted to the set: sadism is really just the next step after corrupt power structures.

I’ve played my husband in Magic quite a bit. I always win the first hand. I’m decisive in building my deck. I open my packs, organize my cards by color, and select the two strongest (fastest-playing, most aggressive) colors. Ravnica is a bit different. Because of the guilds, there are a number of two color cards, so there are more piles as I sort by color and less options as far as combining colors that are not in a guild together. I looked through each stack, knowing already that my black, red, and black/red stacks pretty much made up half of the stack of cards I had to work with. I would most likely have to play them, but I’m always careful to look over every color just in case there’s a better, less obvious option. This time there wasn’t.

I stacked my red and black options together and put my other cards aside. I’ve been playing Magic for less than a year and I’m already stubborn; I already have my rules and routines. Unlike my husband, who can’t resist a good card even if the rest of the cards of that color are junk, you will never catch me playing more than two colors. I won’t wait to draw the right lands; I try to have a low mana curve, aggressive cards, and I try to win before Rob can get his good cards out for lack of mana.

This is why I always win the first hand: Rob plays slower than I do. He sees complex combinations and can’t resist them. He’s the better player for a decade or so of experience and for understanding the nuances of the game, but he loves new cards too much. He wants to play them all and he doesn’t think about speed and drawing the right lands. He’s nuanced and high-minded; I’m scrappy.

Of course, once he’s beaten once, he goes back and fixes his deck and catches every miniscule misunderstanding I have — generally of order and timing and what’s where on “the stack.” He never lets me win more than once. Except that he can’t beat my Vampire Onslaught deck no matter what deck he plays. If you’re playing Rob, you should get one. And definitely make a big deal of it when you win. He likes that.

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