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Fall is here. Leaves are changing colors and the kids are all back in school. Oh, and the fine folks at Wizards of the Coast are kicking off an entirely new block of cards in the Magic the Gathering world. This weekend brings the launch of the Return to Ravnica block which will take fans back to one of the most fabled Planes in Magic lore.
In order to prepare for all of the various launch festivities that are running this weekend across the tabletop / CCG world, I figured perhaps it would be helpful to check in with a bit of a “primer” for the new set. What is Ravnica and why is it so important to the world of Magic? What new mechanics can we expect introduced / returning to the game? Hopefully I can shed a light on all of those questions and more.
What is Ravnica?
Ravnica is one of the most fabled Planes in the Magic the Gathering universe. Introduced back in 2005 with the original Ravnica block, the Plane is primarily known for its 10 warring guilds. These ten guilds, each masters of a different dual-mana combination, have been battling for centuries, vying for power and control of Ravnica.
Only five of the guilds will be taking center stage in this new set. Return to Ravnica, which consists of 274 cards, will focus on the Izzet League, Cult of Rakdos, Golgari Swarm, Azorius Senate, and Selesnya Conclave. The rest will make their return in the next set, Gatecrash, which launches in February 2013.
Masters of Duality
As I mentioned above, each guild mastered two colors of mana. This means that the set and its associated decks and mechanics focus heavily on the duality of their respective colors. This means that we will be seeing a return of hybrid cards to the game. These cards contain mana symbols that can be paid with one of two colors, just like the Golgari Longlegs pictured here. In addition to giving you numerous options in terms of mana spending to cast this creature, the hybrid mana symbols also classify the creature into two different color classes. Not only is the Golgari Longlegs a green creature and effective by any spells or traits that correspond to the green classification, but it also takes on the classification of a black creature at the same time.
Creatures aren’t the only thing that take advantage of this mechanic; Dual Lands are also returning. Five of the nonbasic lands from the original Ravnica block are returning as well. Cards such as Hallowed Fountain and Blood Crypt will give players a chance to tap the specific type of mana necessary for different situations. In is important to note that these are not “basic lands” and therefore you are limited to the number of them that you can have in your deck (no more than 4 of each type).
Unique mechanics per guild
Each guild included in the set also has their own unique gameplay mechanic that applies to their cards. Cards that are associated with a specific guild will be labels with a guildmark in the background of its text, identifying its guild of origin. Depending on their alliance, they may also feature one of the following mechanics:
Detain (Azorius): Used by the white and blue Azorius Senate, the Detain mechanic may occur as a “state-based” ability or an “enter-the-battlefield” ability from creatures coming into play. When a creature is inhibited by the Detain mechanic, it cannot attack, defend, or have its abilities activated until its controller's next turn.
Overload (Izzet): Seeing as how the Izzet are known as the impulsive and reckless, inventor-mages of Ravnica, their unique Overload mechanic applies to instants and sorceries associated with their guild. This mechanic allows spells originally intended to focus on a single target to be transfered to all targets. For example, if a card instructed you to “tap target creature you don’t control”, paying its Overload cost would change the spell to “tap all creatures you don’t control”.
Populate (Selesnya): The green and white guild of the Selesnya brings an army of token creatures onto the battlefield. This ability allows a player to put a token onto the battlefield that is an exact copy of a token they already control. A card such as the sorcery “Courser’s Accord” (pictured) instructs players to place a 3/3 green Centaur token onto the battlefield and the Populate. this means that after placing the 3/3 token creature on the battlefield, you can then place a second one (copy) of that token or any other token that you may already control.
Scavenge (Golgari): Focusing on the duality of life and death, the black and green Golgari utilize the Scavenge mechanic. This allows players to utilize a creature card in their graveyard (which features the Scavenge mechanic) and transfer its power to another creature on the battlefield in the form of +1/+1 counters. This ability is treated as a sorcery and can only be triggered during steps where sorcery spells could be cast. For example, if I have a 2/3 creature in my graveyard with the Scavenge ability, I can pay the associated cost, exile that card, and then place two +1/+1 counters on a target creature of my choosing.
Unleash (Rakdos): The black and red Rakdos are primarily categorized as demonic and blood thirsty. The Unleash mechanic makes their creatures much more aggressive by giving you the ability to cast them with a +1/+1 counter on them; however, attaching such a counter to one of your creatures also forefeits your ability to block with them as long as the counter remains in play. This is purely intended for those with offensive minded decks.
If you haven’t mastered the art of playing with multiple colors in your deck, now is definitely the time to do so. The sets that will be released for most of the next year will focus heavily on mechanics associated with it and if you are serious about playing, you need to master the art anyways. The Return to Ravnica set is available in stores now through a variety of products including booster packs, intro decks, and the oh-so-popular fat packs. Many retailers who carry the game and regularly host Friday Night Magic events will be holding special tournaments tonight and through out the weekend in honor of the new set’s release. The official “Game Day” for the set will be held the weekend of October 27 and 28 while the Return to Ravnica Pro Tour will be held in Seattle from October 19-21, 2012.
SPECIAL NOTE: It is important for Magic players to note that with the release of the new set, the lineup of the Standard format has officially changed. Standard gameplay is now limited to cards from the following sets: Innistrad, Dark Ascension, Avacyn Restored, Magic 2013, and Return to Ravnica.