As i mentioned in Part 1 of what i think is going to wind up becoming a running series of posts that will expand beyond just being about Magic: The Gathering and grow to encompass the other nerdy games i love, i am a big fan of the flavor text and in-game world of Magic, and i especially enjoy the color wheel system and how it can be tied into player personality. i also enjoy playing with the various combinations of colors that can be made in the game, as well as the more complex personality implications of the confluence of two or three colors. So you can imagine my enjoyment of the recent card sets set on a plane that is structured around combinations of colors, where two-color combinations are woven into the very structure of life. i am, of course, referring to the recent Return to Ravnica block.
i missed the original Ravnica block, because it was during the extended period in college that i stopped playing and buying cards, focusing more on pencil and paper RPGs (and some LARPing) in my leisure time, having finally found consistent groups of people with whom to play these games for the fist time in my life. So when i started learning more about the (at the time) upcoming Return to Ravnica block, having returned to Magic again during the Innistrad block last year, i became very excited and instantly began immersing myself in the ten guilds. i figured that, with ten guilds to choose from, i would be able to stake my allegiance pretty definitively, right? The answer to this is: yes and no. While i definitely have one guild that i prefer over all the others in terms of the game world, the fact of the matter is that i have found something enjoyable in all ten, either in gameplay or flavor text.
Let’s start with my definite front-runner: the Izzet League. Color combination: Blue/Red, my two strongest colors in my personality. The Izzet are experimental, creative, intellectual, and have a short attention span. That’s pretty much me through and- oh, look! A puppy! Also, their guild leader is a dragon. A dragon! What’s not to like? In gameplay terms, their Overload mechanic allows one targeted spell to blow itself out of proportion and hit everything it could target instead with what essentially become tidal waves of magical force. The Izzet are my best personality fit, and i really enjoy them all around.
The next in line with my personality in terms of colors would be the Simic Combine. Color combination: Blue/Green, my primary color and my tertiary color. The Simic are stewards of nature and holistic thinkers, who idealize the perfectibility of natural systems. Where the Izzet are the physicists and engineers of Ravnica, the Simic are the chemists and biologists, constantly experimenting with living systems and genetic engineering. In gameplay terms this translates into their Evolve mechanic, in which weaker creatures adapt and become stronger through the addition of +1/+1 counters every time a stronger creature comes out. This can be very fun to play with, especially when the creatures in your deck come up in the right order…
“But wait,” you might be saying, “isn’t there a third leg to the triangle of two-color combinations that your personality would indicate?” Very astute. In fact, there is one more guild that deals directly with my personal three-color personality combination: the Gruul Clans. Color combination: Red/Green, my secondary color and my tertiary color. Oddly, the Gruul are probably my least favorite guild in Ravnica, both in flavor and gameplay terms. They are a savage, anti-civilization collection of tribal groups constantly at war with each other due to the philosophical belief that only the strongest should survive and be allowed to continue. i think the reason that they don’t really appeal to me as much as other clans that are less in line with my three colors is that they represent what the red and green aspects of my personality could be if i didn’t have the strong restraining control of blue and its intellectualism. They represent the complete abandonment of intellectual progress, a surrender to the more instinctive, bestial nature in all of us. Perhaps part of my problem with them is that i myself am loathe to confront the raw, unrestrained emotionality that i know lies within me. In gameplay terms, i am also not particularly fond of their gameplay mechanic: Bloodrush, where you sacrifice one creature to give a temporary bonus to another creature. i’m just generally not a fan of sacrificing creatures (which explains why i don’t play much black, either, but that’s only really tangentially related).
So, now that i’ve broken the mold a bit by declaring one of my better-color-matched guilds my least favorite, what about the rest? Let’s take them in order of closest color match…
First up is the Azorius Senate. Color combination: Blue/White. The Azorius are essentially the self-appointed government and law enforcement of Ravnica, though their actual power tends to fluctuate. Their gameplay mechanic Detain reflects this, immobilizing creatures controlled by opponents and placing them “under arrest” and unable to act for a time. They can be fun to play, combining defensive aspects of blue with white’s life gain and ability to amass force, but there are other guilds that do group attack better, and in flavor terms, the Azorius have a massive stick up their collective ass. Still an enjoyable guild altogether.
Next in line would be House Dimir. Color combination: Blue/Black. Easily one of the most intriguing guilds in flavor terms, House Dimir is a shadowy organization of spies who are an open secret on the plane. Everyone knows they exist, but no one openly acknowledges them. They act as information brokers, using their skill with menta magic, as well as “stirring the pot” between guilds, keeping them at odds with each other so that none rise to too high an ascendancy. In gameplay terms, the Dimir are one of the most fun guilds to play for me. They are very heavy on mill (making an opponent discard cards from his/her deck), and their signature mechanic, Cipher, allows spells to be imprinted upon creatures so that every time a creature does damage to a player, the spell is re-cast. Combined with the fact that the guild has a host of creatures that are unblockable, this mechanic becomes very powerful. The Dimir creatures whose power and toughness are equal to the number of cards in an opponent’s graveyard can also quickly get out of hand as mill effects begin to stack up (for example, i once did 60 points of damage in one turn because i had two 30/30 Consuming Aberrations).
My next best personality fit would be the Boros Legion. Color combination: Red/White. Essentially Ravnica’s standing army, the Boros represent military might in the service of law. This translates to a combination soldier/police force that often (but not always) works with the Azorius Senate. It’s basically an entire guild full of paladins… who often fly through the air on the backs of griffins (or under their own power, as there are a few angels in the service of the Boros). That’s… pretty badass, to be honest. They still have that Lawful Good stick up their ass, but less so than the Azorius. In gameplay terms, this is another fun guild to play. They use white’s ability to throw together large forces of individually small creatures to power their signature mechanic: Battalion, in which special abilities are unleashed when three or more creatures attack together (and stack if you attack with multiple creatures who have Battalion abilities).
After the Boros comes the Cult of Rakdos. Color combination: Red/Black. This is the guild that, quite frankly, turns me on the most when it comes to flavor. A loosely-held-together group of sadomasochistic hedonists who worship a demonic overlord? The kinkster in me wants to know where to sign up… And this is reflected in many Rakdos-affiliated cards. The most obvious example that i can think offhand would be Deviant Glee. The combination of artwork and flavor text on this card just strikes a chord somewhere deep within me. Just… yum… Unfortunately, i’m not a big fan of the way the Rakdos play in game. Their signature mechanic is called Unleash, and it gives a creature a +1/+1 counter, but takes away its ability to block. i’ve always been a very defensive player (in pretty much every game i play, really… i think it’s the blue in me), and sacrificing defense for a bit more offensive punch fits the Rakdos well, but it just isn’t my style…
So onward, to the Selesnya Conclave. Color combination: Green/White. Another really fascinating guild to think about, the Selesnya take green’s affinity for nature and add in white’s desire for order and structure and translate it into a sort of neo-pagan-style religious belief in an overarching conscious manifestation of nature and the connectedness of the natural world: Mat’Selesnya. Members of the guild ultimately seek to give up their own individuality and become living avatars and mouthpieces for the will of Mat’Selesnya in service of the Conclave as a whole. This definitely runs counter to the influence of blue and red’s individualism in my own personality, but in gameplay terms they are a lot of fun to play. Selesnya’s signature game mechanic is known as Populate. Populate creates a creature token that is a copy of any other creature token already on the battlefield. When used in concert with many Selesnya-affiliated cards that create tokens, this mechanic can quickly generate a massive army of creature tokens that can overwhelm an opponent’s defenses. Add in some white lifegain, and Selesnya becomes very powerful very quickly. Fitting for a guild that’s all about strength in numbers.
We’re getting close to the end of our exploration of the Guilds of Ravnica, but in an interesting paradox, the two guilds that are farthest from my core personality are two of my favorites to play. First up is the Golgari Swarm. Color combination: Green/Black. The Golgari are a study of opposites: Life from green and Death from black. They are essentially the guild of recycling, drawing life and strength from the dead and waste matter. A zombie in Ravnica is more than likely a member of the Golgari, and their guild leader, fittingly, is an undead elf. In gameplay terms, this translates well into their signature mechanic: Scavenge. Creatures with Scavenge can be exile from graveyards after their death in order to place a number of +1/+1 counters equal to their own power on another creature that is still on the battlefield. “But wait a minute! That sounds a lot like the Gruul’s Bloodrush ability, and you didn’t really like that one…” i will agree that the two do sound very superficially similar, but the details make all the difference. Golgari’s scavenged creatures are already dead, to begin with, and the bonuses they confer on the living are permanent rather than expiring at the end of the turn. That’s a compromise i’m much more comfortable making, and it has served me very well in my Golgari deck.
Finally, the guild that is farthest from my core personality is the Orzhov Syndicate. Color combination: White/Black. The best analogy i can come up with for how the Orzhov operate is a scary hybrid of the Catholic church, the Medici family, and the Italian mafia. Part church, part business union, part protection racket, completely corrupt, and complete with mob lawyers, the Orzhov worship the almighty buck (or at least the Ravnican version). Their signature mechanic, Extort, is perfect for their flavor as well, allowing a player to pay extra mana when casting a spell to take away one life from an opponent and gain one life themselves (also about as perfect an embodiment of the White/Black dynamic as could possibly be devised…). This ability is stackable if you have more than one permanent with the ability on the battlefield as well, so it can become very powerful, indeed.
So those are my thoughts and feelings on Ravnica, in a (rather large) nutshell. It’s definitely a plane i could stick around in for a long, long time, and i intend to continue playing with my Ravnica decks long after the coming change occurs. Unfortunately, as must always happen in the game, Magic is about to shift gears again. The final card set in the Return to Ravnica block came out back in the beginning of May, and in exactly one week, the new card set, Core Set 2014, is going to be released. Sure, i’ll be able to find boosters from the previous block for a while, but there will be new things to explore as well, and i look forward to seeing what the next block turns out in a few months. But i will continue to look back wistfully at Ravnica as progress continues moving the game ever forward.
This is my tribute to the plane that i have come to love.