Return to Ravnica (RTR) Set Review: White and Azorius with Grant Hislop
Well, it’s that time of year again, where our rotating formats rotate, and we’ve got a whole host of sweet new cards to talk about. It’s very difficult to get too much of a feel of the potential landscape of next season’s standard environment. Even looking at Innistrad Block Constructed isn’t able to leave a fully accurate impression, as Lingering Souls and Intangible Virtue, ie the best cards in the format were banned before Avacyn Restored was released, causing the metagame to adjust to replace the loss of the best decks in the format.
Add into this the addition of M13 and the as yet untested Return to Ravnica, and we’re looking at an almost entirely unexplored format. As someone who really enjoys brewing terrible decks, it’s a really exciting time, as pretty much everything is possible, and we’re not yet constrained by an established metagame of ‘best decks’ to brew in mind of. So long as what you’re doing is objectively powerful, you should be fine, for the first few weeks at least…
You can find all the spoiled cards on our Facebook album: Return to Ravnica – Visual Spoiler from Manaleak.com
As a small caveat, when writing this set review, I’m doing so based on the massive leak that’s been published on MTGSalvation, rather than my usual method of waiting until Wizards releases an official visual spoiler, firstly in an attempt to get slightly ahead of where I usually am, and secondly to try to actually get the entirety of the review up before the Pre-Release. What this means is that it’s possible that there are some cards which are spoiled incorrectly, so please forgive me if I’m discussing any cards which don’t exist. I’ll have a once over once the real spoiler is released, and update as appropriate, though if you know better, feel free to sound off in the forums.
With this being a largely Gold set, I’m going to structure it as follows:-
1. White and Azorius
2. Blue and Izzet
3. Red and Rakdos
4. Black and Golgari
5. Green and Selesnya
6. Artifacts and Lands
I’ll include Hybrid cards in their respective guild slots, but I think that this method of structuring has quite a pleasant progression, which appeals to my inner pedant.
Without further preamble, to the cards…
White and Azorius
I’ve been avoiding spoilers as much as I can, but I know that some people are pretty high on this. I’m not one of them. I don’t think it’s a bad card, for certain, and I love a ridiculous amount of value as much as the next guy, but I just can’t see paying seven mana for a triple Oblivion Ring, even with extra graveyard based value stapled onto it.
I can see people coupling a pair of them, probably through Omniscience, and going infinite in some way, either with infinite damage via Bloodhunter Bat, of infinite life gain and tokens, with Huntmaster of the Fells. In either case, it’s a 4 card combo, and your central piece costs ten mana, which seems less than ideal.
Obviously, you don’t need Omniscience, and could just cast both of your seven mana Angels on consecutive turns, but that leaves you open to all sorts of removal. It’s possible that the best place for him that sort of exists currently is in the Angel of Glory’s Rise based reanimator decks, though that seems unlikely.
It’s not the worst as a control deck’s finisher, as the body is substantial, and it comes with a pseudo-wrath stapled to it, and one that doesn’t just go away if they kill the creature, which is a bonus, but I don’t see the hype around this card being justified.
It’s a huge bomb in limited, obviously, as massive fliers that kill other creatures, even temporarily always are. It’s pretty tough to get a handle on what the limited environment will look like at a glance, but it’s tough to imagine a format where this isn’t a top notch curve topper.
He won’t be guarding the constructed tables any time soon, as he’s far too expensive, but in limited, you’re looking at what is basically a brick wall on the ground, and one that can nudge away at an opponent’s life total without fear of reprise, if you’re lucky enough to have a Guildgate in play. He’s solid, but isn’t going to be high pick. I’d anticipate picking these up on the wheel for the most part. If the Armory’s as full of cards of this calibre though, I’d avoid white.
Well, I guess Scars block isn’t going to rotate in its entirety… This hasn’t really seen any constructed play throughout the last two years, and while it’s cheaper cousin Pacifism is still kicking around in the core set, it seems unlikely that that will change. Last time we were in Ravnica, we got an excellent variant on this in Faith’s Fetters, which actually was tournament constructed level playable, and I would really have liked to see that reprinted, but beggars can’t be choosers, and this is a more than acceptable alternative.
How valuable is this? More accurately; how bad must white spot removal be before we consider this as a serious constructed option? The answer is ‘Much worse’. Creatures, in these modern times, so frequently have ETB effects stapled onto them, so letting them resolve, and hit you once before you get the option to deal with them seems like a losing prospect to me. The ETB-A-Thon is probably more symptomatic of Vapor Snag’s effect on the format though, as there were many, solid creatures that weren’t able to see play under its yoke, with Hero of Bladehold and Phyrexian Obliterator being the two prime examples. In any case, this isn’t good enough for constructed, but I think we all knew that.
It’s decent enough in limited, I suppose, though it’s more towards the ‘Oh no, I’ve got no removal. Well, I guess this will have to do’ school than the pack one, pick one calibre of the previous card on the list.
Kor Hookmaster was a very high pick in the Zendikar draft format, and this is definitely reminiscent of that, though the Detain mechanic as a whole is stronger, in that it can deal with any non-land permanent. The Arrester is strong enough to see constructed play, though it’ll probably only be in a White Weenie style deck, where it’s convenient creature type will make sure that Champion of the Parish can continue to attack an opponent’s life total, where previously, he’d have been relegated to “The Abyss” duty.
In limited, obviously the more of these you’ve got, the better, as you can keep beating. I foresee these to be very high picks for white based tempo decks. I wouldn’t feel too bad P1P1’ing this, assuming the environment isn’t hugely hostile to aggressive strategies.
This won’t see much constructed play, as the body is too slight for the mana investment, but if there’s any justice, he’ll be best buddies with the Arrester above in the same style of tempo based deck.
I think the Detain mechanic, as a whole, is primarily a limited one, but the stand outs, like the aforementioned Azorius Arrester are constructed viable. Sadly, this one is not.
I’m writing this without any pictures, so I have no idea what a Krovod actually is, or if it has any real-world equivalent. It’s a pretty fun word, and it certainly sounds Slavic. It’s not a constructed playable card though, barring the most Bazaar circumstances.
It’s an on-board trick, which isn’t the worst, I suppose, but the cost is so high, and the Krovod just isn’t good enough on its own to have the marginal toughness boost be good enough for regular play. I cannot see this being anything other than a 14th pick.
Too small a front end for constructed, and the back end is too small to block Insectile Aberration profitably.
Barring a deck with a huge number of Trumpet Blast style effects, I don’t see this making the cut in many draft decks either. The evasion isn’t valuable enough in and of itself to warrant particularly serious consideration, but as with any format with any depth, there are always fringe cases. I don’t see this making many waves over the next few months.
I suppose that it plays nice with Rancor, though given that it lacks the resilience of Rancor, and the fact that it’s difficult to envisage a deck that wants 8 pump enchantments, it’s tough to picture this seeing play over Rancor. It’s probably one that casual players will love, as they love tooling up a guy, and going Voltron, but it’s clearly not one for the tournament crowd.
I doubt it’s that strong in limited either, as the benefit is pretty small, and the potential for two-for-one’ing yourself is just not worth the risk.
Our first Populate card! I really like the Populate mechanic. Anything that can up to double the amount of creatures I have has to be good. I hope it’s not pie in the sky when I say that it will see a lot of play over the next year. The structure of this block is going to be such that the mechanics in this set won’t get repeated until the third set of the block, if at all, so any card with Populate (or indeed any mechanic in this set) that sees play is probably going to do so on its own merits, rather than as part of a dedicated ‘Populate’ deck.
I can definitely foresee a curve of T1 Doomed Traveller, T2 Intangible Virtue, T3 Lingering Souls, T4 Eyes in the Skies being a real thing for the coming months, though to be honest, with that curve, you don’t really need Eyes in the Skies all that much! While most people seem to be viewing Populate as a primarily limited mechanic, I’m of the opinion that it’s one of the more powerful one, especially given the surrounding environment, and given the anticipated meta that I envisage.
Anyway, this card is definitely real, and I’d be very surprised if people aren’t hopping on board sooner rather than later. After all, Midnight Haunting has seen play, and this is basically Midnight Haunting, and with an upside if you’ve built your deck with it in mind.
Ah, Boros Swiftblade, how we miss thee. I’d love to have seen this in the same format as the Swords, but given that Runechanter’s Pike is pretty much the best thing left to work with, I guess that’s what he’ll carry. I don’t see him getting much play, but it’s yet another card that plays nice with Rancor, which is always nice.
I can’t see a limited environment where I want this, as he just gets outclassed so quickly, and there’s not nearly enough playable equipments for him to carry.
Silverchase Fox hasn’t exactly been lighting up the constructed tables, and I can’t see adding a better creature type to it will make players particularly keen to experiment with an alternative. It’s fine, I suppose, and it’s possible that it’s not horrendous coming out of the board, to deal with, I don’t know, Descendants Path or some bullshit, if that ever becomes a thing, but I’m not especially excited by it.
It’s a bear with an upside for limited, which is seldom bad, so will probably see a reasonable amount of play in the 40-card formats, as solid cards with an upside usually do.
I find this type of card difficult to evaluate for limited typically. I don’t mind enchantments that are reasonably decent creature pumps, like Oakenform and the like, but that doesn’t cost nearly as much as this does, but creates far more of an ‘all the eggs in one basket’ type effect than this. My initial reaction is that it’s far too expensive for what it does, but I’d not be hugely surprised if I’m wrong.
Doesn’t impact the board the turn it comes down, and the effect isn’t really that powerful anyway. Sure, it’s effectively a removal spell for their best guy, but I’d far rather pay one mana more for a Tamiyo, the Moon Sage and have some more options. It’s nowhere near good enough for constructed.
I suppose it’s fine in limited as a way to pre-emptively deal with inevitable stupid dragons that your opponent will inevitably play. I’d not be particularly excited to be opening these, and would expect them to spend most of their time in limited sideboards.
We’ve seen similar effects on more expensive creatures in Empyrial Archangel, and more recently Elderscale Wurm. Neither of these is/was particularly widely adapted, but having more ways to potentially battle Red Deck Wins can’t be bad. Worth noting is that this will absorb the entirety of a Bonfire of the Damned, which is pretty huge, though the extensive cost, and otherwise marginal body will likely limit the amount of play that this will see.
In limited, there will be a decent amount of decks that just cannot beat this, like Stormtide Leviathan, Platinum Angel and co before it, which isn’t terrible, obviously. Will be considerably better in sealed than in draft though, again due to his very low power.
An anthem with a dude attached. I can’t ever see playing this over Angel of Jubilation, if that’s the effect that I’m looking for, but it’s nice to have options. Even when those options are worse than the existing ones. I’m very much pro-choices.
How good it is in limited obviously varies from deck to deck. The body isn’t completely embarrassing if you’re just casting him, but he’ll clearly be far better in decks with a reasonable number of token procedures. The insight in this paragraph is truly staggering. Not that it’s better elsewhere in general, but this one is truly impressive.
Plays really, really nicely with Silverblade Paladin in Standard, which is nice. Is a human, so plays very nicely with Champion of the Parish, which is also nice. Honor of the Pure rotating is a real shame, so presumably the white weenie decks will look to cards like Ajani, Caller of the Pride rather than Gather the Townsfolk and co for an element of reach, and this fits into that style of deck very well.
In limited, it’s obviously going to be a lot harder to connect with it, and the rewards are a lot smaller, as the tokens are unlikely to do much of relevance outside of getting in the way and gumming up the ground. Again, if you’ve got a decent number of cards with the Detain mechanic, this gets a lot better, but I’m much more excited about playing this in constructed than in limited.
Very, very solid sideboard card. Aggressively costed so as to actually be playable, and absolute enough to make it impossible to play around. Graveyard decks always have the most trouble dealing with Leyline of the Void on turn 0, and this undoes all the work they’ve done up ’til that point as well, though it does require a mana investment. This will see play in all the formats it’s legal in, for certain, though it’ll be exclusively in the sideboard.
Siding it in against a Golgari deck will be fine in draft too, as you’re trading one card for a host of value out of theirs, which will, hopefully be worthwhile.
This was the first card that was spoiled for the set, and was allegedly opened in a pack of M13 at a pre-release, if memory serves. It’s a really, really complicated card, especially for a common, as it doesn’t really do anything by itself, and hinges around what you’ve already got in play. It’s a combat trick, but it’s not as obvious as say a Glorious Charge or something similar. It’s fine for protecting Geist of Saint Traft, and even lets you keep an Angel token around, which will presumably be where a lot of people start off their experimentation, but the Populate mechanic really resonates with me for some reason.
I really, really want it to be good, and this will be one of the key cards in a token based strategy, both as a way to increase the team, and as a way to protect from Supreme Verdicts and the like.
As above, it’s value in limited varies from deck to deck, and I won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting that you won’t know whether you should play it or not.
Limited wise, the Healer part of the effect is frequently very powerful, and it’s always nice to have something to do with your lands in the late game. The body is on-curve, and is a token, which plays very nicely with the rest of White as a whole. Interesting card.
Limited only, for certain, but it’s nice to have an aggressively costed body like this with late-game upside. I’d play this in a WU deck, just for the body, but as above, having something to do with your mana in the latter stages of the game is always welcome, and the body is too large to ignore for long, and will do a pretty good job of holding the ground, should you fall behind. Very impressive.
Seller of Songbirds
This and Attended Knight are presumably our replacements for Blade Splicer, and clearly none of them conjurs a favourable comparison. I like the Knight better for constructed, but I doubt either of them sees much/any play.
In limited, again, it plays into White’s overall theme, and the additional body is far, far more relevant than the Seller himself.
A really solid tempo card, for those who’re in the market for that sort of thing. Effectively halts an opponent developing their board if they want to keep their permanents around. Doesn’t interact well with flip cards, which is a shame, but I guess it’s pretty reasonable if a Frites deck survives the rotation as a cheap way to deal with the reanimated fatty while not having to devote an entire turn to doing so.
A good removal spell for the aggressive White limited decks, where cheating out giants is less common, and halting the opponent’s progression for a couple of turns is likely to be very relevant.
Sphere of Safety
Ghostly Prison, this ain’t. Costs far too much to see play in constructed, though the effect is powerful. Unless you’re all in on an Enchantress type deck, which I don’t see the incentive to do, it’s at best a Ghostly Prison for 5, which is a huge cost difference, and enough to ensure it’s safe to say it’s unplayable.
It doesn’t seem like White’s a control colour in this limited environment, so it’s tough to imagine a deck that can make profitable use of this.
Solid, evasive body for aggressive White decks. Fits the curve very nicely between Azorius Arrester and Azorius Justiciar. Vanilla creatures, even French ones don’t see constructed play with this cost-to-stats ratio though, clearly.
Generic White combat trick. Lifelink AND First Strike is at least interesting, though the pump in and of itself isn’t worth too much.
Has there ever been a format where a 1/1 for 1 was decent? Disciple of the Vault doesn’t count. Gets outclassed far too quickly in both limited and constructed, and in both cases, isn’t worth a card. Kitty.
As has been discussed extensively throughout the cards with Populate, how good this is varies from deck to deck. The high cost is prohibitive enough that it’s not a ‘slam it in every deck’ situation, though it is, at least, easy enough to splash without too much difficulty. I really want Populate to be good, but I’ll reserve judgment until after I’ve had a chance to play with it.
Onto the gold cards now…
Archon of the Triumvirate
Limited only, obviously, as the cost is far too high on the body for the effect it generates. This is the Azorius card for the pre-release, which means that everyone who’s gone Azorius will have at least one in their decks. I like Detain as a mechanic in limited, but I prefer it on the smaller, more aggressive creatures.
In constructed, the huge cost combined with the not particularly impressive stats means that it’s not going to see much play, which should come to the shock of approximately no one.
I’m a fan of the Charm cycle, and this is one of the better ones. Individually, the abilities aren’t quite worth a card, but the option of having access to each of them more than justifies inclusion. I can foresee myself using all three of Azorius Charm’s modes in both constructed and limited. People have written about the Charms in far more depth than I’ve got space to do so here, so I’ll yield to them. They’re good. They’re very good.
People are calling this a bad Maelstrom Pulse, but I don’t see why we can’t think of it as a good Oblivion Ring (not to say that the O-Ring is bad). Will be top notch against token strategies, and will act as a general catch-all spell for its tenure in the format. First rate removal, and I’m very excited to be playing with it.
It’s more expensive than Vapor Snag, but it plays much nicer when targeting our own Snapcaster Mages. Dealing damage is considerably better than gaining life though, and I’d far rather deal one damage to my opponent than gain two life myself. Unsummon is still standard legal, for those who’re not quite ready to move away from Delver of Secrets in favour of these shiny new toys quite yet.
Fall of the Gavel
The high cost will be its downfall for constructed, and it’s on the very high end of acceptable for limited. As I’ve noted above, it would appear that the UW deck will be more tempo oriented than an out and out control deck, so it’s tough to imagine a deck that wants to hold up five mana to counter a spell and gain some life…
This is interesting in that it fits nicely into both controlling and aggressive UW decks. Flash is easily my favourite keyword, and the stats on this are impressive enough that you won’t be too upset to flash this in on turn four without ambushing a blocker. Easily my favourite Azorius coloured common, and one that will slot right into my cube.
Consecrated Sphinx leaves us, and we’re left with Isperia as its closest analogue. It’s stats are terrible, as it dies to Mizzium Mortars, which is basically the new Dismember test, but potentially draws you more cards. I’m not holding my breath for this though, I don’t really think it’s all that good.
Solid enough body, but it’s unlikely that it’s constructed worthy. Limited wise, it’s really good though. I’d probably be happy enough to first pick it, even if it is a pretty significant commitment to colours, though I do have a somewhat irrational love for UW Skies decks, wherever possible, so I’m probably bias.
New Prahv Guildmage
As with the Azorius Charm, I can certainly see myself making use of both of these abilities, and I really like the ability to sacrifice my own board development for indefinite handling of my opponents big dumb dragon. It’s nowhere near as powerful as Azorius Guildmage was, but it’s definitely a very solid card.
I don’t claim to be an authority on Magic, but I’m certain that this is unplayable.
I was searching for a use for this, but I just couldn’t find it. Gitaxian Probe was good because it drew a card, and only cost one (at most). I’d far rather draw a card than gain some life, and costing two means that this doesn’t warrant any serious constructed consideration.
A decent body-to-cost ratio, and an excellent tempo based ability means that this will be right at home in the UW decks that I envisage being drafted. Really, really solid. I’m a big fan of Azorius in this set, and am almost certain that I’ll be playing them come pre-release time.
Our Scars Block analogues continue, with an obvious Blue Sun’s Zenith replacement. It’s a very specific deck that wants this effect, and how good that deck is remains to be seen. It’s on my radar, for certain.
How relevant is the ‘Can’t be countered’ clause? Really, there’s only one type of deck that would ever attempt to counter a Wrath of God effect, and that’s Aggro-Control. Given that Mana Leak will be leaving us as Supreme Verdict rotates in, and that the vast majority of the expected metagame revolves around creature battles, it’s difficult to imagine there being an abundance of Counterspells kicking around anyway, which, in my opinion, means that it’s just a straight up replacement for Day of Judgment that not all decks can actually cast.
Decks like BW tokens ran Days from time to time to deal with the aggro decks, as an example, but now they don’t have access to a realistically costed Wrath effect. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but it’s interesting to consider.
Jank. Most ridiculous counter names ever, but it’s still jank.
What a boring way to end things. Fine, but not exciting. Boo.
Top 5 Cards I want to play in Constructed
Top 5 Limited Commons
Thank for reading, thanks for sharing.