Return to Ravnica (RTR) Set Review: Red and Rakdos with Grant Hislop
Writing these set reviews is a huge time commitment on my part. As I’m writing this, it’s Nine O’Clock in the evening on Thursday, and I’ve just got back home from working a twelve hour shift. Before I went to work, I spent four hours writing the Blue and Izzet portion of the set review. I’m not complaining, I really enjoy writing these, and I hope you’re enjoying reading them, but you’ll hopefully forgive me if I miss a seemingly obvious interaction, because at this point, I’m pretty fried.
You can find all the spoiled cards on our Facebook album: Return to Ravnica – Visual Spoiler from Manaleak.com
Anyway, now that we’ve covered both White and Blue, and their respective guilds, we’ll be moving onto the Red section, and Rakdos. Normally, under traditional colour progression, we’d be looking at Black, but I found that if I reverse Black and Red, I can sandwich each guild represented in this set between each of its two colours, which I find aesthetically pleasing.
Red and Rakdos
With both Pillar of Flame and Searing Spear competing for similar slots with this, it’s unlikely to see how this superior named card will fit in. It’s a little on the steep side for serious consideration, especially with cards like Brimstone Volley already at the three-slot.
In limited, this is your premier red common removal spell, and should be valued accordingly. It deals enough damage that it kills the majority of commonly seen creatures, and the extra versatility of being able to go to the dome is always welcome in this type of effect. We’re obviously not reinventing the wheel here. It’s a solid card, but I’d expect most of us are familiar enough with how to evaluate these cards. It shouldn’t surprise you that this is the best Red common in the set.
This card is going to give control decks nightmares, especially ones that are making use of both Flashback spells and Snapcaster Mage. He comes down on turn two, immediately starts swinging, and might incidentally do a whole bunch of additional damage while they try to deal with it. Will presumably be pretty good in a pseudo zombie mirror at shutting off Gravecrawler recursion, though he’s probably a bit steep on the mana symbols for that to reliably be a thing.
Batterhorn provides a necessary effect, in that Artifacts frequently need to die. For constructed, I tend to prefer the cheaper options, like Manic Vandal, though I have been known to actually cast an Ingot Chewer or two in my time. I think this is a little too expensive for the effect, even with the larger than usual body. It’s easy enough to splash in sealed though, where people are more likely to be playing their equipment, and with all the man-a-stones kicking around as well, you’ll seldom be left without uses for this.
Obviously limited only, and not particularly great there either. It’s a reasonable mana sink, if you’re looking for that sort of thing, but the unimpressive base stats mean it’s unlikely to be particularly widely adapted. If it had haste, at least it could catch an opponent unawares, and bad Fireball them, but as is, it’s well bellow the curve of what’s acceptable.
Our first Unleash card. It’s a good mechanic, very aggressive, and given that it’s pretty rare to block in constructed anyway, it’s more likely than not that these cards come down with +1/+1 counters on them. A 5/4 trampler for four isn’t likely to make the grade in sixty card decks, but it’s generally going to be able to eat at least two of an opponent’s creatures if they want to kill it in a forty card format, which cannot be bad. I’d expect this to be a solid curve topper in the aggressive red decks while we’re drafting this set.
Generic limited Dragon. Solid for what he does, and if you unleash him, he’s got super-evasion in both Flying and Trample.
This is effectively Trumpet Blast. Probably works better in RG or RW decks, with a decent number of token producers, but it’s definitely a good limited card, and will steal a lot of wins due to people not playing around it. We pretty much all know what we’re getting here, as the generic pump your team spells are nothing new, but this one is aggressively costed enough that it’s actually worth playing, where so many of the alternatives aren’t.
As previously mentioned, there are a decent number of X/1 creatures in the format, so this is pretty close to being constructed level. It’s reasonable to pay the normal cost, but on the Overload, you’re getting a really excellent deal, especially if Lingering Souls tokens are what ails you. Deceptively one of the better limited commons too, I expect this to end up as a very high pick.
The Lava Axe of the set. I’ve thrown more than my share of Lava Axes in the past, and I won’t usually mind paying an extra one mana to be able to throw them at creatures as well. It’s in no way a constructed playable card, but it’s a solid role player in red decks. It’s closer to the ‘oh no I’ve got no removal, I guess this will have to do’ end of the spectrum than a p1p1 calibre card like Annihilating Fire, and you’ll seldom want more than one, but most red decks will be happy to have access to it.
Five mana is far too expensive to see play in constructed, and four 1/1’s is a bit low impact for five mana in limited as well, outside of the most dedicated token decks. People love Goblins, and might rally around this to try it out, but I don’t think it’s good enough, sadly.
I can absolutely get behind this as a RDW creature. 3/2 for two mana is certainly on curve for there, and while it’s not particularly exciting, it will fill a solid role. A big part of the problem that the old Zombie decks had were a dearth of two drops, but this is a solid one, for those who’re not quite ready to move away from burn and Falkenrath Aristocrat (and who can blame them).
It’s a decent one for an aggressive red deck in limited as well, though likely to be a lot better in draft than in sealed, where the format is a lot faster, and people aren’t playing four colour ‘all my bombs and removal’ decks. Should be a high pick, somewhere around 4-8th, I’d expect.
Yuck. Bulk rare. Unplayable.
A combo enabler, be it for Storm in Modern, or Burning Vengeance etc in standard, this is a card that gets my Johnny-sense tingling. It’s not the most robust of creatures, and while I’m generally loath to turn on an opponent’s otherwise dead creature removal, I can see this making an impact as Burning Vengeance 5-8 in decks that are in the market for that sort of thing.
In limited, he’s aggressively costed enough that he’s playable, and the additional ability will be either ok or great depending on your deck. It’s easy to imagine casting this guy, then following it up with a flurry of cheap instants to pretty much clear the board. Time will tell if I’m looking at this through rose-tinted spectacles or if he’s as good as I think he is.
Decent ‘finisher’ for walls.dec, I suppose. I’m not holding my breath for this one though, I’m certain he’s bad.
First Strike and Haste on a seven mana 6/2 is a difficult combination to evaluate. While it’s obviously too expensive for constructed, it’s not unreasonable as a curve topper in an mid-range to controlly red deck, as it can do a reasonable impression of Fireball, and nothing is getting past this on the ground, if you’re stalling.
I wouldn’t draft them aggressively though, as even as an uncommon, it’s unlikely that there’s more than one drafter at the table who can make use of them, so picking one up shouldn’t be particularly difficult, should you be in the market.
This is pretty much my favourite card in the set, and I’m sure it will make waves in Standard. The versatility of the spell is what truly pushes it to the next level, as it’s reasonable at two mana, and the overload cost isn’t completely unreasonable either. The fact that overload changes ‘target’ into ‘each’ means that you can use it to deal with Hexproof creatures such as Geist of Saint Traft and co, admittedly at a premium price. The fact that in the early to mid game, you’re able to handle everything that people are commonly playing, all the way up to Restoration Angel is absolutely huge, and I’m expecting Mizzium Mortars to be the new Dismember/Vapor Snag test of the format for the foreseeable future.
Pursuit of Flight
I don’t think that most Izzet decks will want this, as I see them being much more grindy and control based, but base-red aggro decks could want this just as a creature pump. It’s aggressively costed enough to not be unplayable, but the usual Aura tension is still present.
Well, it does nothing the turn it comes down, which will be around turn five, and requires you to play a critical mass of multi-colour spells, which may or may not be good. It’s pretty bad, and I’d be surprised if the stars aligned in such a way that this was playable. I’ll stick to Burning Vengeance as my do-nothing Enchantment of choice, thank you very much.
This is probably not worth a card in constructed, but in aggro decks in limited, it might be ok, as a way to speed up the clock somewhat. Basically, adding one to the cost of a creature to grant haste is effectively moot, as if you’re casting your guys on curve, they’d be attacking that turn anyway, but I suppose as a way to keep your opponent on the back foot, there are worse options. I doubt it’s worth it though, as it otherwise does nothing.
Blood Ogre saw no constructed play, and I can’t imagine that a version that can’t block would either.
In limited, it’s a solid card that fits an important point in the curve, and as has been alluded to many times previously, it’s pretty unusual to block in limited anyway. Thug Life, indeed.
Instant speed reverse Bonfire of the Damned doesn’t exactly get my juices flowing for constructed, but this is absolutely a premier removal spell in limited. These will be very high picks, and will be taken by the non-red drafters as well, as splashing for Fireball is as old as the game of Magic itself.
Survey the Wreckage
What Demolish needed to start seeing play was not being more expensive and bringing a body with it.
How valuable is turning off a splash colour in limited? Probably not valuable enough that it’s worth paying this much for. Worth considering trying to colour-screw your five colour opponent in game two, I suppose, but outside of that, it’s far too low impact to warrant making the main deck.
Generic big Red guy. You’ll seldom be excited to play him, but he’ll steal wins here and there, I suppose. I like this type of guy more than I should, but he’s solid. You’ll have access to one, if you want one, for the most part, as people seldom value these fairly. I’ve had more than my fair share of last pick Flameborn Hellion, which never ceased to amaze me.
Threaten effects are almost always good news, especially for the aggressive red decks. Hopefully this ends up replacing itself, by either killing the opponent, or forcing them to at least chump block with one of their other creatures. Finding a way to engineer a one-for-one with this is seldom difficult, but it’s not unheard of to force an unprofitable two-for-one from an opponent struggling to stay in the game.
Generic limited Dragon. Nothing exciting to see. It’s basically Doubling Season for Dragons, as turn one, you’ve got one, turn two, you’ve got two, turn three, you’ve got four, and so on. It’s unlikely that the game will progress much further once you’ve got two dragons, but still.
This is on the cusp of being Modern playable. If only it weren’t Sorcery speed. Killing all the robots would be excellent, and the early use as a pseudo-Smelt would be excellent too. It’s fine, I suppose, but I don’t see that many artifacts that actually need to die in post-rotation standard, as our artifact centric block is leaving us.
This is an interesting use of Red’s version of the looting mechanic. I’m inclined to think that it’s quite good in limited, as most card filtering spells are. I’d prefer a Rummaging Goblin or a Mad Prophet, but this is probably a solid card. The body isn’t embarrassing either, which is a bonus.
On to the Rakdos cards now…
This is a removal spell primarily, and 99% of the time, it will be used as such. It’s a good one too, at that. I’ve Nameless Inversion’d my own creatures before to swing race maths, and while this is a little less versatile at that than Nameless Inversion, it will come up at some point, so don’t forget that it’s not just a Grasp of Darkness.
The Rakdos pre-release card, so will be in every Rakdos deck. It’s fine, I suppose, but of the five, this is my least favourite, even though it does a pretty good job of racing the other four. Rakdos is the least popular guild in my local store, so I don’t expect to be facing down to many of these when I play this Sunday.
This is going to be one of the defining cards of the standard environment. I’m much more a fan of this than Abrubt Decay, due to the additional versatility of being able to kill the Planeswalkers as well as creatures, which is likely to be important. Obviously Abrubt Decay isn’t bad, and a Jund deck probably wants a mix of both of them, but it’s my favourite of the two. I’m looking forward to experimenting with this in Grixis decks too. It’s colour specific enough that it won’t be particularly widespread, so we won’t get bored of seeing it, like Delver of Secrets.
Again, it’s worth splashing for in limited, assuming you’re in at least one of either Red or Black. Removal’s removal.
There isn’t a deck that wants this effect in standard, I don’t think. It’s moderately interesting in formats like Commander, where people often have a penchant for gaining infinite life, and this can reset them down to a slightly more manageable number. Outside of that, I can’t see this being particularly widely used. Is Thragtusk really that much of a problem?
This is well above the curve for BR creatures. A 4/3 for three is pretty impressive, and the ability to shoot the opponent isn’t shabby either. Definitely one for the vast majority of BR Aggro decks to consider, both as an efficient beater and an element of reach as well (like that deck needs the help).
He’s pretty good in limited too, coming down larger than most comparable things at that point of the curve, and can even punch through the majority of the defenders in the format as well, which can’t be bad. Solid card, and will be a high pick.
As with all the charms, you’re paying for the versatility. Each of the abilities on their own aren’t worth a card, but the options they provide make them more worthy of consideration. I like this one fine, but it’s one of the weaker ones in the cycle for constructed. Don’t get me wrong, all of the abilities are nice, but compared to something like an Izzet Charm, it’s coming up short. I expect these to see a reasonable amount of play in sideboards, to bring in vs Graveyard decks, Artifact centric decks and Tokens, respectively, but I don’t think any of those abilities is worthy of maindeck consideration.
Too small a body for constructed, but it’ll be pretty good as a curve topper in limited. Costing five isn’t that bad when it’s got haste, and the lifelink will help swing races. I like this better in an Izzet deck splashing black, as a way to regain position, and hold the ground, but it’s fine as a curve topper in aggressive Rakdos decks too.
Yuck. This is so expensive, super fragile, and the effect, while powerful, is far better in the early game than by the time the ringleader hits. Shockingly bad.
Rakdos, Lord of Riots
The mana cost is brutal on Rakdos, as you really want to cast him on turn 4. The deck that would be most likely to want to make use of him would be some sort of BR Zombies style deck, but the colour commitments in that deck make it pretty much impossible to expect to cast both Rakdos, Lord of Riots and Geralf’s Messenger in a timely fashion, which means that Rakdos will likely be edged out, which is a shame. He’s a very powerful card, but I just can’t see him finding a home, and it’s due to that horrendous mana cost rather than any issues with the card’s power level.
I’m not as high on this card as Mike Flores is, but I don’t think that’s possible. It’s fine as a 1-2 of in a Grixis deck, as both a late game quasi-Cruel Ultimatum, but it’s pretty low impact in the early to mid games. I don’t see a ramp deck wanting this in any great numbers either, which means that it’s unlikely to maintain its currently sky high pre-order price.
The effect is certainly powerful enough to warrant consideration, and it’s obviously not a bad card, I just don’t see it being popular enough to continue being as expensive as it is.
Rix Maadi Guildmage
Again, people block very rarely, so it’s unlikely that we’ll be using the first ability all that often. The second ability is pretty good though, given what I’d expect a typical Rakdos deck to look like. As with many of the Rakdos cards which are part of cycles, this is one of the weaker Guildmages, but it’s still a fine card, even if it lacks the versatility of the remainder of the cycle.
Too expensive for constructed, clearly, but it’s probably better than it looks in draft. By the time you get to five mana, it’s unlikely that an opponent has too many cards left in their hand, and the chance to hit the two best isn’t the worst. It’ll not be great, but I suppose it’s worth considering.
Magic has evolved well beyond times where Cranial Extraction was a good card. We’ve had this card before, in Thought Haemorrhage and more recently Memoricide, and neither card was particularly well received. I have no reason to believe that this will be any different.
Spawn of Rix Maadi
Yeah, this is the Mass of Ghouls for Rakdos of the set. It’s fine, but we’ve seen these stats before. Very unexciting.
On one hand, it requires you to have a bunch of other cards in play. On the other hand, if a Red deck hits its curve appropriately, this is potentially HUGE. I’d need to play around with this a bit to accurately gauge how good it is, but I’m initially quite impressed by the potential.
It’s another pseudo-Diregraf Ghoul for Zombies, which isn’t the worst thing, but I’m not particularly impressed. Sure, it’s a one mana 2/2, but it’s not a relevant creature type, and it gets outclassed really early by the majority of decks that I’m expecting to see.
The haste on this makes it insane. I’m really excited to experiment with the Shred-Freak in the next couple of weeks, as it just seems so far ahead of the curve compared to what the majority of Red creatures look like. We used to have to jump through hoops to get Stormblood Berzerker online, but now he’s even swinging on turn two as well! One of the best cards in the set, for sure.
Top 5 cards I want to play with in constructed
Top 5 limited commons
1. Annihilating Fire
2. Auger Spree
3. Gore-House Chainwalker
4. Traitorous Instinct
5. Splatter Thug
Thank for reading, thanks for sharing.