Ravnica: City of Guilds was the first box of boosters I ever opened. A birthday gift from a girlfriend our sophomore year of college, it was a wealth of riches that a HotPockets-and-hotcouch nineteen-year-old could barely comprehend—thirty-six packs!? all for me!? This marked the moment that I became, per Wizards’ terminology, an enfranchised player. It also further reinforced my love of the actual game, as original Ravnica was a deep and thrilling set—at the time, at least.

From our current perspective, it’s somewhat clunky and charmingly outdated. Watchwolf was a powerhouse—we couldn’t believe a 3/3 for two mana, after a decade of Servant of Volraths and Serpent Warriors—and Lightning Helix changed our understanding of what burn could do. But the cards that were powerful back then are the baseline now. That’s as innovation should go, and thirteen years on, it’s still worth pointing out that Ravnica was a huge leap forward in terms of Magic’s design. It might not read that way now, but the cards that seem mundane today were shocking then, in much the same way that cards from Invasion set the parameters of what Magic was capable of.

As we head back into Ravnica for the third time, I wanted to take some time to compress those thirteen years, weave the past to the future, and find some gems from our three visits to the plane that may look all the more precious in the context of new cards and new understandings of what Magic can do. I fully expect these to be terrible, because they’re pre-spoiler, pre-rotation decks, but dive into them with the same kind of guileless glee that I once had when I thought Moroii was one of the most powerful creatures ever printed. (It was most of a Juzam Djinn that flew! How couldn’t it be!?)

Modern Opposition

Unlike Opposition, you can’t tap lands with Glare of Subdual, so it’s more Ensnaring Bridge than Time Walk. That’s the only downside of this potent card: you can tap Emmara, make a token, and tap the token to abate another threat or put them off Hierarch mana. Death & Taxes/hatebear archetypes are great, but what’s better is letting your opponent build up a board and then completely invalidating it.

Abzan Tapkens

Creatures (14)
Emmara, Soul of the Accord
Voice of Resurgence
Pain Seer
Brimaz, King of Oreskos

Spells (23)
Path to Exile
Lingering Souls
Storage Matrix
Glare of Subdual
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Secure the Wastes
Lands (23)
Windswept Heath
Marsh Flats
Temple Garden
Overgrown Tomb
Godless Shrine
Foundry of the Consuls

This is not far from normal aggro-tokens deck, but with a controlling twist. Pain Seer never saw much play, as it’s a fragile threat; but with a non-combat way to tap to keep the card advantage flowing, it’s much better. There may be a place for Cryptolith Rite in this deck. Further testing is desired before I suggest it, though, as I don’t want to turn this into a clumsy enchantment deck. Is Storage Matrix too cute? Probably, but there’s nothing more fun than tapping your own Matrix at the end of your opponent’s turn and untapping as normal during your own. That’s the Ravnica feeling, right there.

Narcomoeba Plus Anything

Guess who’s back in Standard? Narcomoeba and Dredge were partners in crime in the legendary Ravnica-Time Spiral Standard environment. Dredging away three Narcomoebas to feed Dread Return on Angel of Despair was a very popular line of play, as indeed it has been (with better reanimation targets) in various Modern, Legacy, and Vintage decks through the years. But in a format without Dredge, how can we exploit the world’s greatest Flying Man?

There’s a terrible deck concept in my draft folders, just awaiting a powerful sacrifice outlet from the Golgari, assuming there is one. At that point, you’ll be able to mill your way to—well, probably not victory, as this deck seems terrible, but at least some rewarding bemusement from your FNM opponents.

Standard Meeb Engine

Creatures (14)
Llanowar Elves
Jadelight Ranger
Thallid Soothsayer

Spells (27)
Vicious Offering
Search for Azcanta
Gaea's Blessing
Sinister Sabotage
The Mending of Dominaria
As-Yet-Unspoiled Sacrifice Outlet
Crucible of Worlds
Lands (24)
Hinterland Harbor
Overgrown Tomb
Watery Grave
Evolving Wilds

Finally, a place for the superb Vicious Offering and a consolation deck for your second-pick Crucibles. I think it’s likely than any games you win with this deck will come from lucky Jadelight Rangers; but if you’re going to dig in the dirt with the Golgari, you might as well make a few sculptures out of the muck. This is a slow-drip mill deck that seeks to recreate Dredge, but glacially slow where Dredge had ferocious velocity.

You want to throw your ‘Moebas into the graveyard (and thus into play) with Surveil or Explore, sacrifice them to various effects, then shuffle them back in with Gaea’s Blessing or The Mending of Dominaria. Yes, it’s convoluted and dubiously functional, but you’re trying to do something unique—a mix between the Golgari’s recycling, the Simic’s natural mad science, and the sinister opacity of the Dimir.

I do think Surveil will be excellent in Standard. We haven’t seen anything that blows my mind, but a few more reasonable cards with the keyword tacked on, and we may yet reach a critical mass. The mechanic can feed Search for Azcanta, fuel Jump-Start, and trigger Gaea’s Blessing. Keep an eye on where we’re heading.

Niv-Mizzet’s Latest Questionable Scheme

The Izzet League has so many wild ideas. Let’s try our hand at another.

Mind that Fire

Creatures (8)
Snapcaster Mage
Young Pyromancer

Spells (30)
Flame Jab
Faithless Looting
Serum Visions
Desperate Ravings
Surreal Memoir
Firemind's Research
Burning Vengeance
Lands (21)
Scalding Tarn
Steam Vents
Sulfur Falls
Spirebluff Canal

Here’s the deal: I actually think Firemind’s Research is a sleeper hit.

It comes out early enough that your turn three can start charging it up, and it provides inevitability in a high-velocity/low-impact spellslinging deck. Burning Vengeance has been one of my favorite Limited archetypes both times it’s appeared, and I see a possible deck built around the card, one bolstered by Firemind’s Research. Dig deep, find a Research, then cast enough Rebound/Flashback/Retrace cards to build up an army of Elementals and set up 10+ damage on the Research. Is it better than Storm? No, absolutely not, but if you like Izzet and need a change, the Firemind is here for you.

Alternately, a core of Firemind’s Research, The Flame of Keld, Guttersnipe, and any playable Jump-Start cards could, with a seasoning of Opts and Anticipates and possibly Vance’s Blasting Cannons, dig deep and close out with a flurry of cheap cantrips, building up to a triple activation of the Research. I truly think the card has potential, even in Standard.

Indeed, I think the whole set has potential. There’s so much left in Ravnica to see—four more new Legendary guild leaders, a playable Jump-Start spell, Saproling support for Slimefoot in Standard—and I’m excited to dive in. It may be thirteen years from when I was a callow sophomore to now, when I’m a 32-year-old sophomoric adult, but there’s a similar feeling in the air as there was then, a new excitement for a return to one of Magic’s oldest and most creative planes, a time when we can crack packs together and divide ourselves into factions based on personal identity.

Alright, that’s a lot of positivity for me. I’ll leave you with this: Barging Sergeant is a truly stupid name for a card.

A lifelong resident of the Carolinas and a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Rob has played Magic since he picked a Darkling Stalker up off the soccer field at summer camp. He works for nonprofits as an educational strategies developer and, in his off-hours, enjoys writing fiction, playing games, and exploring new beers.

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