New Magic: The Gathering set returns to past success

This past weekend saw the pre-release events for the new Magic: The Gathering set—Return to Ravnica. This set features, as you may guess from the name, a revisiting of the plane of Ravnica, previously seen in the Ravnica: City of Guilds block, perhaps the most popular Magic block ever. Return, the first set in the new block, picks up where the last Ravnica block left off, checking in on the various multicolored guilds which made it so loved by players. For those who don’t know anything about Ravnica, imagine Star Wars’ Coruscant, but in a multiverse laced with magic instead of technology, and with massive political shenanigans and infighting.

Return’s structure is a bit different from the previous Ravnica block’s, having five of the 10 guilds in the first set, five in the second, and all 10 in the last, rather than three, three, and four, like last time. All the guilds have new abilities, and most have new legendary creatures in charge of them, though a few such as Niv Mizzet and Isperia have returned to be reprinted. The five guilds in Return are the white/blue Azorius, the blue/red Izzet, the red/black Rakdos, the black/green Golgari, and the green/white Selesnya.

The Azorius Senate—the lawmakers and governing body of the plane of Ravnica—are now led by the sphinx Isperia, Supreme Judge, who was seen in the last Ravnica and seems to have been promoted since then. The Azorius ability this time around is called “detain,” which makes a card unable to use its activated abilities until your next turn. If that card is a creature, it can’t attack or block until your next turn, either. Other than detain, the blue/white cards in the set consist of a lot of cheap flying creatures, a few counterspells (though they are weaker than we’re used to seeing), and other things that generally say, “No.” All in all, this makes the Azorius a strong but annoying guild to play against.

The Izzet League is a collection of, well, mad scientists more concerned with experimenting new things than what those things may result in. As far as they are concerned, an explosion is a satisfactory result. The Izzet are led by the dragon Niv Mizzet, a genius and extremely powerful mage. Their ability this time around is “overload.” Overload appears on instant and sorcery cards, which the guild is focused around playing, and lets you pay a higher alternative cost to change the word “target” on the card to “each.” For example, the card Mizzium Mortars deals four damage to a target creature you don’t control, but if you overload it, it will deal the damage to each creature you don’t control. Other Izzet cards often let you draw more cards or deal damage to things, making them a ton of fun to play.

As for the Cult of Rakdos, they officially run the Ravnican mining operations, but in practice they behave more like a carnival gone wrong. They hold wild parties—wild enough to get you killed—and also run the brothels of the giant city. Their leader is the demon Rakdos, who cackles madly as his minions set themselves and each other alight. The Rakdos ability in Return to Ravnica is “unleash,” which lets creatures that have it come into play with a +1/+1 counter on them, but renders them unable to block. This creates some interesting choices, as many of these creatures have good defensive abilities, such as regenerate or first strike. Other Rakdos cards focus on dealing damage, destroying lands, and making your opponent(s) discard cards from their hand.

The Golgari Swarm is obsessed with the cycle of life and death. Living in the sewers, they are a bunch of insects and elves who create and destroy with equal proficiency. Led by the lich lord Jarad, they are the guild to play if you like graveyard shenanigans, both putting things in the graveyard and getting them out. The Golgari mechanic for this block is “scavenge,” which appears on creature cards. For a mana cost, you can remove from game a creature with scavenge from your graveyard to put +1/+1 counters equal to its power on another creature. Other Golgari cards do things like destroying creatures or the aforementioned graveyard shenanigans. The Golgari are my personal favorite guild; I love messing with the graveyard.

Lastly, we have the Selesnya Conclave, a group of spiritualists and druidic figures who wield and nurture the forces of nature. Led by Trostani, a protective dryad, the Selesnya’s new ability is “populate,” which lets you copy a creature token you have in play. Selesnya cards are very efficient creatures, protect creatures you have in play, and make your creatures stronger. They also make tokens. Lots of tokens. All kinds of different tokens. The Selesnya are very fun to play if you like having massive armies of creatures.

I am completely psyched about this set. The original Ravnica is my personal favorite block ever, and Return promises to be almost as good. The next set in the Return block, Gatecrash, will feature the other five guilds of Ravnica: the white/black Orzhov, the black/blue Dimir, the blue/green Simic, the green/red Gruul, and the red/white Boros. I can’t wait to see where it goes from there. I definitely recommend picking up cards from this set if you like Magic. You won’t be disappointed.