Meanwhile back on Ravnica…
The lumbering frame of the fallen Troll stirs from his shallow grave as great throngs of mana plow through the dirt and beckon him to awaken and claw his way up toward the surface. His growls muffled by mud can be heard all across the rotten Golgarian landscape as a dark sorcery bids the accursed to return to the realm of the living. A great rage mounts in the rotten zombified brain of the fiend a rage that is only surpassed by his gristly hunger.
Then suddenly just as his massive clawed fingers and gnashing teeth break the threshold of the ground for the stale air of the moonlit night he is consumed by a feeling of transcendent sublimity. His anger subsides; a blinding light that radiates with comforting warmth and freezes the creature's movements. The Troll is overwhelmed by his instinct to slumber—for eternity. It's lifeless frame now devoid of the rage and hatred transposed upon it slides back downward into the depths of the ooze and the night is once again silent.
I'd like to welcome my Vintage readers back to the plane of Ravnica—a world that has already had a profound effect upon shaping the landscape of Magic's oldest format and that looks to once again assert its influence over it. In today's article I am going to take a look at the full Return to Ravnica spoiler and talk about the cards I believe will see some serious tournament play in Vintage and how these cards are likely to be used.
The Big Two
"Ravnica giveth and Ravnica taketh away…"
It's ironic to me that Ravnica the set and plane that brought us the fun and fair 'Dredge' mechanic is now the place we return to find some of the best anti-graveyard cards ever printed.
If I were a planeswalker on Ravnica I would almost certainly be a member of the Selesnya Guild. First and foremost I'm a white mage which makes me at heart a Bant mage since green and blue are the allies of white. However the Simic put way too much faith in science and are criminally irresponsible with regard to their wildly unethical experimentations. And let's face it the Azorious are way too uptight for my taste. The Selesnya on the other hand are basically the good guys who are trying to protect the environment and the natural world in a world gone insane. The Chorus of the Conclave is basically Ravnica's Theodore Roosevelt.
Anyway being that I am a white mage you can only imagine how pleased I am with the two aforementioned printings Rest in Peace and Dryad Militant especially for Vintage where the Golgari (with their Bazaar of Baghdads and Ichorids) already have such a strong foothold.
Let's start with the latter Dryad Militant:
"Department of Natural Resources Officer says: 'You may not dump your garbage on this plot.'"
It is pretty clear to me that since the last time we visited Ravnica the Selesnya have gotten some signatures presented them to the Azorious and gotten permission to put an end to Dredge's pollution of the Vintage landscape.
With a flexible casting cost of G/W and two power for a flexible one mana Dryad Militant is going to be a force to be reckoned with. When I was playing the Midrange Bant deck earlier this year I observed that one of that archetype's biggest weaknesses was that there was a lack of cards in existence in those colors that hose narrow graveyard strategies. RTR solves this problem in a big way.
First of all the Dryad is a card that can easily be played in any aggressive creature-based strategy because his starting statistics (a 2/1 creature for one mana) are decent. However when we pair its good size for the mana cost up with the card's extremely relevant ability of exiling any instant or sorcery before it hits the graveyard the card itself becomes an extremely useful tool for G/W decks.
G/W Hate Bears type decks have really been longing for a card like this since they have always wanted another 1CC creature to fill in their curve. The Militant fills that space nicely.
- 3 Aven Mindcensor
- 4 Dryad Militant
- 4 Elvish Spirit Guide
- 2 Leonin Relic-Warder
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Qasali Pridemage
- 2 Scavenging Ooze
- 2 Gaddock Teeg
- 2 Kataki, War's Wage
- 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
It also appears to me that Militant is pretty good against the blue decks in Vintage that rely heavily upon Snapcaster Mage and Yawgmoth's Will to defeat creature-based decks. It is simply put the kind of card that on the first turn will likely pound through a bunch of damage and also get value by virtue of its nerfing graveyard recursion.
I also think that this card has obvious applications in various Bant lists. I see no reason why any U/W/G deck Midrange Bant or Noble Fish would not want to make room for a couple copies of this creature. Also keep in mind that the Midrange Bant deck plays with Green Sun's Zenith which makes Dryad Militant a pretty spicy 1CC Tutor target.
The Dryad's versatility isn't limited to only G/W or U/W/G decks either. He could easily be played in RUG Delver and simply cast with green mana. I know that deck has traditionally struggled with Dredge so this new printing could easily find a home in a deck like RUG.
Even more important than the printing of Dryad Militant for Vintage is this card:
"Vintage Dredge will never be R.I.P. for good but this card is a good start."
I will go on record as having made the two following bold statements:
- Rest in Peace is the best anti-Dredge card EVER printed.
- Rest in Peace is the most important Vintage printing in RTR.
I will not however go on record as saying this card by any means invalidates Dredge as a strategy—but it does even the playing field for a lot of the creature decks that I believe have been kept down by Dredge over the course of the past year.
In a previous article I noted that decks not playing black were at a huge disadvantage in the metagame simply by virtue of not being able to play the Power 3 Dredge hate cards: Nihil Spellbomb Leyline of the Void and Yixlid Jailer. Simply because they couldn't play these cards that had been the best cards at fighting Dredge they were at a distinct positional disadvantage every time they played against a graveyard deck.
Not anymore… With the printing of Rest in Peace decks with access to white now have the very best anti-Dredge card which really swings the metagame around in a big way. Decks that traditionally struggled to beat Bazaar of Baghdad simply because the cards didn't exist to fight it effectively now have one heck of a bullet in their arsenal. The sideboard of nearly every deck in Vintage that plays with a Tundra or Savannah should literally from this point forward begin with four Rest in Peace.
It is also funny that a card that is 100% symmetrical and has no effect upon the battlefield (aside from Serra's Sanctum and other nigh irrelevant stuff for Vintage) could have such a profound impact upon the shape of the meta. Perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised as Grafdigger's Cage also meets these qualifications and is an important Vintage card. Oh the hoops we go through to defeat Dredge…
Another point of interest is that control decks that have traditionally aligned themselves with Grixis or were simply U/R like Landstill may very well move toward Esper or U/W just to play with Rest in Peace. The upside of Lightning Bolt over Swords to Plowshares is nearly a wash (I actually think Swords is a better positioned card than Bolt because it can kill Kuldotha Forgemaster Tarmogoyf and Blightsteel Colossus whereas Bolt can sometimes kill a Jace the Mind Sculptor or attack a players life total) but having access to Rest in Peace could swing a lot of percentage points to a blue deck's favor post-sideboard.
The big question that people will have to answer now becomes do control decks want to play red for Bolt and Ingot Chewer or do they want to play white for Swords to Plowshares and Rest in Peace. An interesting dilemma indeed!
Other RTR Cards That Don't Stick It To Dredge
In general I think that RTR will be remembered in Vintage for its powerful anti-Dredge cards but there are still more nifty gems in this set that don't attack the graveyard.
Vandalblast is a really solid and I believe important piece of technology for addressing MUD in the future. First of all it is a 1CC sorcery speed Shatter at the beginning of the game which is about as much as one could hope a card to be against Workshop. However as the game progresses it essentially becomes 4R win the game.
Now I understand that most people wouldn't even bother boarding in a card against MUD that was Sorcery—4R: Win the game because resolving it is quite the pipe dream. Yet if it had an alternate mode of R: Vindicate such a card starts looking pretty good…
Obviously this card is in competition with Shattering Spree and Ingot Chewer and I haven't decided which one I think is actually better. But I believe that the answer is going to be dependant upon what support cards are put around it.
Ingot Chewer has some strong points for it; obviously it dodges Chalice of the Void set for one as well as Thorn of Amethyst. Shattering Spree you can play for less than five mana can also destroy a Chalice for one in a pinch and can be flashbacked with Snapcaster.
The thing that I like about Vandalblast as a card is that it doesn't rely heavily upon a bunch of red mana like Spree which is good because most decks that want this effect are Grixis with only a red splash. This means that it might be a really nice option in a Turbo Tezzeret style deck that produces a lot of mana. Decks with Grim Monolith could really use a card like this to their advantage to simply nuke their opponents out of existence in the midgame. I also like that it doesn't cost five mana when I am flipping cards to my Dark Confidant.
"Izzet going to be playable in Vintage? Yes."
Izzet Charm is clearly one of the most exciting Constructed playable cards in Return to Ravnica. (For the record am I the only one who keeps calling this set Ravnica Restored? I just mention it because I've had to retype the set name at least six times while writing this article. Anyway…) The Ravnica Charm cycle like the Shards Charms really pushes the boundaries of versatility power and value. In Izzet Charm we see a card that doubles as a counterspell against spell decks and a removal spell against creature decks; it also basically 'super cycles' when absolutely needed to dig to a specific card.
It is the kind of card that keeps percentages high in a blue mirror but also helps sway the G/W Hate Bears matchup significantly since it deals with problematic cards like Thalia and Gaddock Teeg. Also any card that counters Jace the Mind Sculptor and blasts Dark Confidant off the board is bound to be very good in a blue mirror. The major thing holding this card back is that it will not kill a Lodestone Golem in a pinch although it can be used against MUD to pick off stray Mishra's Factory or Phyrexian Revokers. At the moment with the metagame being so saturated with Workshops I don't think that Izzet Charm will see a ton of play but if we ever get to a point where MUD isn't public enemy #1 I would anticipate this card's stock rising.
Being able to hit basically any threat in the format is pretty fantastic. Dreadbore is exactly the kind of card I like to have access to in my maindeck because it can answer such a wide variety of card for a very reasonable mana cost. The sorcery speed drawback of this card makes it look much worse than it is as being able to simply answer a Dark Confidant or Jace in addition to Lodestone Golem is a big big plus well worth not being able to flash it EOT. There are people who play with Vindicate in their control decks as a catchall answer type card—while this doesn't get an Oath it gets almost everything else so I am going to be on the side that says this card is playable as a maindeck one-of in control.
"You may enter the Cave of Wonders but must touch nothing except the Gush…"
Regrowth is a really good card and this card is pretty close in power level to Regrowth. Therefore we must assume it could be playable. The first thing that snapped into my mind when I saw this card was that it could be a pretty decent card in a Cobra-Gush deck. Not only because Cobra-Gush meets the specific color qualifications of the card but because I usually play the allotted one copy of Regrowth and really like it in that deck.
When you are going off with Gush + Fastbond Treasured Find serves as more copies of Gush (the same way that Merchant Scroll did in the days of yore) and in the meantime while you are trying to set it up it can rebuy critical lands or powerful spells like Ancestral Recall.
"Nobody said that destroying Chalice of the Void for two had to smell good."
All things considered I would categorize this card as being fringe playable at best. It is actually pretty good against disruptive creature decks like Bant where one might really want to kill a Gaddock Teeg through Flusterstorms and it is cute that it can destroy a Chalice of the Void set for two.
The thing that I feel makes this card a possibility for Vintage play is that it can destroy Oath of Druids. The color drawback is pretty severe but nonetheless cards like this occasionally crop up and see play when the time is right as a miser's singleton. I can attest to having played Maelstrom Pulse in Vintage on more than one occasion so it wouldn't surprise me if this card finds its way into one of my 75s at some point in the future.
"INSERT PUN about how any deck playing this card would certainly be an EXPERIMENT!"
Every time there is a new set I say my obligatory "One day for one tournament there will be a crazy turn 1 Storm deck" and this is my card to put on the watch list for that deck. If you can pump out a bunch of mana in a deck full of spells and then cast this spell with that mana it's pretty clear it will probably facilitate winning the game on the spot similarly to the way that Mind's Desire provides that same effect. Cast a bunch of Rituals make a bunch of mana play an expensive spell that creates a bunch more spells—the logic here is simple and sound.
However in a world (at least for now) where Mishra's Workshop sits perched atop the metagame and Mind's Desire is not a playable card common logic tells us that it is not yet the time to be experimenting with this card. Make a note and let's move along.
"Rakdos Lord of Riots is known for being a pretty charming Tyrant Demon hence the song 'Rakdos… Suave…'"
What Return to Ravnica lacks in providing new 'build around me' cards and strategies it certainly makes up for by providing us with efficient versatile answers that overlap and attack multiple narrow strategies at the same time.
I like Rakdos Charm a lot and could certainly see this card becoming a staple Tutor target in Grixis Control. While the last ability is pretty blah the first two (instant speed Shatter or Tormod's Crypt for RB) are enticing tactical options. These are effects that are of paramount importance when playing against two of the best three decks in Modern Vintage. Rakdos Charm is a great card to have in your starting 60 especially if you are playing with cards like Mystical Tutor in the maindeck to search it out.
If the RTR anti-Dredge printings begin to push people off of Dredge for a while and Mishra's Workshop continues to put up great numbers I could see the concessionary maindeck Nihil Spellbomb that Grixis decks play for Dredge becoming a Rakdos Charm simply to have more artifact hate while not giving up much too much for Dredge.
"Flying Men and half a Spell Pierce?"
That was sarcasm folks.
Cursecatcher sees play in Vintage sometimes because he is a Merfolk. Having the creature type Merfolk is way more important than having a slightly more flexible casting cost and evasion.
There are always Fishy decks out there that play with cards like Judge's Familiar Daze Null Rod etc. and no doubt someone will play with this card and enjoy it quite a bit. However I anticipate this card having a slightly less long-term impact upon Vintage than Cursecatcher.
I imagine necromancers everywhere reading the Return to Ravnica spoiler and thinking:
As you all know I don't follow the intricacies of Dredge deck construction with much interest or enthusiasm but I have had a couple of people tell me that this card is possibly playable in some capacity in Vintage Dredge.
At B/G it is a perfectly castable vanilla 1/1 for one which is alright for flashing back Cabal Therapy Dread Returns (if that is still a thing people do) or simply attacking for a point of damage per turn. It is a black creature for Ichorid and basically a free Battlegrowth from the graveyard. I'm not sure how impactful that is but cards that do things for free from the graveyard have a way of cropping up in Constructed so I'll make a note that this guy exists.
And last but certainly not least…
"WILL IT GO ROUND IN CIRCLES? -Billy Preston."
My affinity for the music and majestic afro of Billy Preston which has absolutely nothing to do with this card or anything else. Detention Sphere is my pick to be one of the best RTR cards for Vintage that doesn't specifically hose Dredge (although it actually does hose Dredge!).
First of all the drawback for making this card functionally better than Oblivion Ring its casting cost of 1WU instead of 2W is actually a benefit. The decks that will want to play with this card play all lands that tap for blue anyway and including a U in the casting cost and thus making it an option to pitch to Force of Will actually makes this card better.
Observation #1: the drawback makes the card better. I will go on record as saying that if Oblivion Ring had cost 1UW it would have seen more Vintage play.
Second of all being able to hit multiple copies of the same nonland permanent is simply fantastic and not trivial. For starters against Dredge when they get a couple of Zombies into play before the hate locks them down Detention Sphere can wipe out their army of Zombie tokens.
And there's more…
Detention Sphere is one of those cards that simply has a lot of play and is also made better by the fact that white got a huge upgrade in Vintage due to printings like Rest in Peace and Dryad Militant.
White: no longer Vintage's longest running joke? Only time will tell…
My Top Ten Picks For The Best Vintage Cards In Return To Ravnica
10. Slitherhead: Might see some play but I predict it will not make hiss-tory.
9. Abrupt Decay: An opponent's soft lock might fall apart quickly if this card enters the fray.
7. Dreadbore: I dread the thought that all these puns are becoming boring.
6. Vandalblast: Little known fact: this card is a reference to those awful little horns soccer fans make those awful droning noises with to make the sport unwatchable for Americans.
5. Detention Sphere: Have a seat in the circle of shame.
2. Dryad Militant: She's environmentally conscientious—she drives the hybrid in RTR.
Meanwhile back on Ravnica…
Silmatet the Necromancer scowls as he watches his undead legion falter and sink back into muck. The Selesnya mage sent his army on the offensive and they were close and closing in for the capture. The Necromancer knows there is no option but to surrender and concede defeat. He lowers his flag signifying his cause is lost and mutters to his general Khanmongur: "Must be completely unreal to have drawn Rest in Peace both games…" as he signs the treaty signifying his defeat (1-2).
Meanwhile nearby the Selesnyan mage strolls through the abandoned and dilapidated streets of the Bazaar of Baghdad and thinks to himself "Ah yes. This will make an excellent site to plant a Savannah…" Only moments later a psychic transmission is received by the mage from his allies at the Stronghold of Meandock Harbor: "Our Dark Confidants have received word that the Golgari have sworn an Oath to the Daemons Griselbrand and Emrakul. How shall we proceed?"
The venerable wizard strokes his beard for a moment as he ponders the implications of this unholy contract. "It is of little concern" the mage responds. "It is inevitable that the dark age of this ancient realm is approaching conclusion. The inhabitants of the lands will fight back against their oppressors with a vigor that makes the Myojin of Infinite Rage look like Norin the Weary! Bring on the Lich! Bring on the Daemons! Bring on even Mishra and his Automatons! With Jace as our ally we will fight them all back and return the planes of the old realm to the creatures!"
Thanks for reading! And enjoy the release of Return to Ravnica!
I am Selesnya. If forced to live on an all city planet I would definitely join the "back to nature" group. The thing I love about the Selesnia guild is that on a plane dominated by varying degrees of villainy the Selesnyans are the one heroic group of the bunch.