I’m pretty hot for Return to Ravnica, as game expansions go. The ten bi-coloured guilds, each possessed of a distinctive mechanic and visual theme, lend the block an immediate sense of narrative and investment which I occasionally found lacking in Magic during the bad old days. I’m not saying that there wasn’t a story there nor that it couldn’t be compelling, but piecing it together out of the quotations and characterisations spread across cards of every colour could, on occasion, be quite vexing.
The advantage of the guild system is that every bi-coloured card is aligned to a particular guild and in some way exemplifies that guild’s character in its appearance, flavour text and effects; the presence of a uniting mechanic in every guild makes the playstyle of the guild apparent and, through the medium of actual gameplay, reinforces the sense of what the guild is about. It also encourages and enables the tracking of a guild’s ethos across the mono-colour cards; if you see extort on a card you’re probably going to learn something about Orzhov, if it’s bloodrush then it’s Gruul, and if it’s scavenge, it’s Golgari.
The Golgari had a vague appeal to me at the start of the block – with an elf lich in charge it’s difficult to see why they wouldn’t – but it wasn’t until I tried out a disillusioned tournament player’s Golgari deck that the appeal became concrete. What basically did it for me was scavenge. I’m always cheap for graveyard manipulation and creature-heavy decks, and scavenge – pay a cost, exile a creature from your graveyard and recycle it as +1/+1 counters for a creature in play – was a new twist on the old saw.
However, the deck that Rosco kindly sold on to me had problems. As is the way with green decks, the larger scavenge creatures are pretty hefty but expensive to deploy; they also tend to have the highest scavenge costs, which basically means you’re paying seven mana, twice, to get a 5/5 into play and a +5/+5 on something else if the opponent is courteous enough to kill it. The best Magic player in our little circle opined that the deciding point in the game should have been and gone by the time you’ve got seven lands on the table, and – with this thought in mind – I decided to try and accelerate the deck’s progress a bit.
Firstly, I imported a trio of Heartless Summonings, the idea being that seven mana for a 5/5 might be a bit too much too late, but five for a 4/4 might be more realistic and achievable. It also meant being able to drop out the essential force multipliers – the Corpsejack Menace that doubles up +1/+1 counters – much earlier in the game, as the Menace dropped to a very affordable 1black/1green 3/3. Finally, it meant I could drag in some middleweight creatures with interesting abilities – 3/3s with trample, or with lifelink for three mana – and, again, drive their costs down to the 1 and 2 levels. I also found time to add some of the new M14 stuff – Liturgy of Blood might seem a bit pricey but it’s removal plus enough mana for an activated ability or two, and Verdant Haven would provide a bit more mid-game mana (compensating, perhaps, for Heartless Summonings making the bread-and-butter Elvish Druid counter-intuitive).
I maintain that it wasn’t a completely idiotic idea, but it had its faults. For one, it rather forced me to remove all the cheap creatures with toughness 1 ; the Summons would kill them on the turn they entered play. This, in turn, meant that my cheapest drops were 2g or 1b/1g, if I already had a Heartless Summons in play, which meant I’d spent a turn putting it out there, which meant I’d be three turns behind the curve before I could attack. For two, I was still finding myself short of mana, needing to pay for scavenge on top of the usual costs for removal and essential deck control and the activated abilities which made most of my creatures worth taking. For three, it often seemed like the creatures that I was dropping were just a point of power or toughness below where they needed to be – and it created an extra bit of maths as I had to remember the -1/-1 state as well as calculating tokens and activated abilities. I was, in essence, creating more clutter for myself to handle, and all in the cause of making some rather dubious cards playable.
Back to the drawing board, then! I’ll go through the current build in the next post.