Last week we saw the first ever Players Championship play out with Yuuya Watanabe earning that Player of the Year title after being the first player to get the most Pro Points in a season and not get it handed to him automatically. I still hope the history books reflect him as the 2012 Magic World Champion but without question the entire event was very exciting to watch and follow. It will be interesting to see how it builds and evolves next year.
The Players Championship fed right into PAX Prime in Seattle. Wizards of the Coast's presence at the Expo was felt particularly loudly Saturday night at the player party they hosted. The big news that really helped set the tone for the entire night was a major preview wave that gives us a serious look into Return to Ravnica. With something like 40 cards revealed there are way more important cards than we can possibly discuss today but I'd would like to take a crack at a couple that caught my eye.
First of all to the surprise of no one shocklands are back. Steam Vents Hallowed Fountain Temple Garden Overgrown Tomb and Blood Crypt are rares in Return to Ravnica. Watery Grave Breeding Pool Stomping Ground Sacred Foundry and Godless Shrine will all be back in Gatecrash. These lands are all of monumental importance and will certainly be discussed at length in the weeks to come.
It will be interesting to see the values of these cards now that they are rares in sets that also contain mythics. It will also be interesting to see the impact of Steam Vents and Overgrown Tomb replacing Copperline Gorge and Darkslick Shores in terms of color preferences. It isn't even just the shocklands either. A new common cycle of dual lands ensures that there is no shortage of fixing for any of the five "active" guilds.
In addition to ten dual lands already we have seen a reconcepted Rupture Spire and the beginnings of what might make for a cycle of guild-associated lands that sacrifice to give you something major. Having so many good lands is a promising start but I'd like to get into a couple of the guild cards themselves.
First on the chopping block is Dreadbore.
Destroy target creature or planeswalker.
Well I guess this answers the question of how long until we see destroy target planeswalker! Of course the primary function of Dreadbore is to kill creatures (probably) just in terms of sheer volume.
What makes Dreadbore so useful is its versatility while still being very efficient. Standard is full of two-mana removal with limitations but actual Terminate would be a major boon. Dreadbore is not without limitations of its own of course but these limitations are on who can play it and when.
Being sorcery speed is a real cost particularly with creatures like Restoration Angel running around (though Inkmoth Nexus will be rotating out). Needing both black and red mana also cuts down on potential adherents particularly since you want both colors early in case you need to Dreadbore on turn 2. Dreadbore doesn't work on hexproof creatures and doesn't stop regeneration but hexproof would have stopped Terminate and there really aren't that many regenerators in the Constructed meta.
In exchange for these things we pick up an extremely powerful option. The ability to kill planeswalkers.
Nicol Bolas Liliana Garruk Ajani Sorin Tamiyo Jace the list goes on and on. It's not even just that neutralizing these key permanents for only two mana is a good deal. It's that creature removal has traditionally had plenty of matchups where there weren't a lot of good targets. The original Ravnica totally turned this upside with Putrefy then Mortify then Wrecking Ball. Creature removal that can also hit another type of permanent is less likely to be dead and gives us flexible options in deckbuilding.
How good is Dreadbore? The power level is reasonably high but is more about the new option. How valuable this option is will really determine where Dreadbore falls in the removal hierarchy. That said straight up Rakdos decks are sure to look to utilize it as one of their first removal spells.
As for three color-decks the first one that jumps out is the synergy with Snapcaster Mage. I know I know it may come as a shock that Snapcaster Mage is good with cheap efficient spells. This is going to be a recurring theme in Return to Ravnica. At least Ponder Gitaxian Probe Mana Leak and Vapor Snag are all rotating out.
Will Dreadbore be good enough for Modern? Planeswalkers aren't off-charts-popular or anything but I would expect to see more Elspeths in the months to come in addition to Liliana of the Veil and Gideon. Saving a mana is more important than instant speed (compared to Putrefy and Mortify) but the real bar is Terminate.
Overall my verdict of Dreadbore is that it will be a solid role-player in Standard with small amounts of fringe play in Modern. That said it is easy enough to wrap one's mind around that it will be initially quite popular (which will be followed by a backlash from players that want to know why it is rare when Terminate was common).
The answer is of course that killing a planeswalker is a pretty exotic thing to be doing but this won't stop a minor backlash. Of course at the end of the day Dreadbore's strength will wax and wane with the popularity of good targets.
Ok that was kind of a lukewarm response. Why did you choose to talk about Dreadbore if your assessment was going to be "It's solid?"
To set the stage.
See the PAX Party did reveal another two-cost sorcery speed removal spell that is flying completely under the radar letting Dreadbore get the hype. This two-cost removal spell is going to have a bigger impact on the metagame creating a new magic number for how big creatures have to be to be "big."
Mizzium Mortars 1R
Mizzium Mortars deals 4 damage to target creature you don't control. Overload 3RRR (You may cast this spell for its overload cost. If you do change its text by replacing all instances of "target" with "each.")
It's easy to underestimate a card like Mizzium Mortars (which is technically Izzet but will appear in a lot of Rakdos decks among others). After all two mana to deal four to a creature (and you can't even dome your opponent) is fine but probably not format warping. Then you can "kick" it to make a six-cost sweeper. What's the big deal?
Ok to fully appreciate Mizzium Mortars we should start by taking a look at the big version. When you pay the kicker cost you get 3RRR sorcery deal four damage to each creature you don't control. It was before a lot of people's time but there was once a card called Flame Wave that did this same thing for seven mana albeit with an extra four to the face attached. As nice as it is to hit your opponent for four the extra mana is worth far more since you can then attack with all your creatures.
Anyone that has played Standard recently is going to be familiar with Bonfire of the Damned the best modern day Flame Wave. How does this six-mana spell stack up? Well it takes seven mana to hard cast a Bonfire for three. It takes five mana to miracle one for four. Getting to reliably count on a four-point Bonfire is worth a fair bit but we are losing the damage to the face the flexibility to play it for three mana the ability to Fireball people out and the ease of a single red symbol.
However Mizzium Mortar has a crucial twist an element that thrusts it into high level constructed.
It is also a two-cost removal spell.
If you thought getting to cast Bonfire for one to kill a Bird was a fine "backup" plan just wait until you try the Mortar. See two-mana to deal four damage to a creature is actually something a lot of people will be in the market for particularly after the Titans Consecrated Sphinx and Wurmcoil Engine rotate out.
Modal cards are at their best when the options are distinct having very different uses from each other. This gives you the most good options as a player. A cheap removal spell/one-way sweeper split card is the perfect example.
We aren't even talking traditional Earthquake style sweeper either. One-sided sweepers are especially deadly in creature-based strategies giving you a bonus "attack phase" when your opponent has no creatures to defend themselves.
Mizzium Mortar is so good it will help shape Standard making five a new Magic number. With the sixes rotating out and Dismember no longer legal I could see five becoming the new six when it comes to toughness. Sigarda Thundermaw and whatever new Juzums they print in Return to Ravnica should have extra attention paid to them particularly if Mortar is quick to take off.
Bonfire of the Damned is so good that it isn't like Mizzium Mortar will just replace it or anything. What we will see however is more mixture. Additionally many people will be in the market for more than four of this type of effect.
Where will Mizzium Mortar show up first? Remember Birthing Pod is rotating out. Well we certainly haven't seen enough Return to Ravnica to produce anything close to a decklist given how much is lost by the rotation. However we can identify the places to look.
Huntmaster of the Fells and Restoration Angel headline a four-spot that is extremely well represented. What about three-drops though? Borderland Ranger is still legal but Blade Splicer is rotating out. The R/G and R/W guilds aren't until Gatecrash but we do have G/W in Return to Ravnica. What will be the most exciting three-drop to come out of the set for these colors?
Also of note Copperline Gorge is rotating out without an immediate replacement. What will this do to the metagame? Razorverge Thicket is gone too but at least Temple Garden will replace it. Temple Garden does mean Clifftop Retreat and Rootbound Crag will come into play untapped more often. Mizzium Mortars also requires significantly more red which presents us with a non-trivial puzzle to solve with the mana base.
Might we see a mana base along these lines?
It is worth noting that Llanowar Elves will have rotated out leaving us with Avacyn's Pilgrim and...Arbor Elf? Arbor Elf does untap Temple Garden but until Stomping Grounds is legal it seems tough to rely on Arbor Elf in a Naya deck. What would we do on turn 1 the games we don't have Avacyn's Pilgrim?
One has to start to wonder if Naya is really where we are supposed to be...
Another possible home for Mizzium Mortars is in some kind of a new Jund deck. Dreadbore and Mizzium Mortars join Pillar of Flame Tribute to Hunger Liliana of the Veil Bonfire of the Damned and Crushing Vines to give us no shortage of good one-for-one removal. Huntmaster Falkenrath Aristocrat Olivia and more ensure we are good to go at the four-spot. What are we missing?
Again the answer seems to be three-drops. Where is our Blightning? More and more it is looking like understanding Return to Ravnica is going to be about understanding the three-drops. We have Borderland Ranger but we lack meaningful disruption. Even Despise is rotating out and I wouldn't count on Duress maindeck.
Rakdos's Return XBR
Rakdos's Return deals X damage to target opponent. That player discards X cards.
Rakdos's Return costs the same converted mana as Mind Shatter (which was a strong Constructed card) while doubling as a finisher and planeswalker removal. The catch? Because the discard is not random anything short of the full monty will leave your opponent with their best options.
Rakdos's Return is really expensive to be sure but it has a hidden strength not seen in discard since Blightning. The typical drawback of discard is how ineffective it is against an opponent that is drawing off the top of their deck. Blightning is always worth at least three to the dome. Rakdos's Return is an X spell...
How does Rakdos's Return compare to Blightning? Well for four mana you are just one damage short of Blightning itself. That is not actually that bad particularly given that it can finish off a planeswalker and Blightning was very aggressively costed at three to begin with.
It doesn't stop there however. Once you spend five mana and hit that third card you are talking about a very powerful option Blightning doesn't give you. It has often been said that the first Blightning isn't so bad; it's the second one that gets you. Well Rakdos's Return lets you buy both with the same card. Spend the mana for two Blightnings and your opponent will have to discard four cards (while costing you only one).
What's particularly interesting about Rakdos's Return is how good it is against some strategies while being painfully slow against others. This makes it the type of card that will rise and fall in popularity with the meta. If too many midrange and control decks show up Rakdos's Return will start to crush.
Not everyone playing in tournaments today has had the privilege of wiping smiles off of faces with Blightning. You are in for a real treat...
I don't know about you but I want to know:
- What does the Rakdos Charm do?
- What sweet three-drops will Rakdos get?
- -What will the Rakdos mythic bomb creature look like?
- -What B/R sacrifice land will we get?
- -What will be the best unleash creature?
Put yourself in WotC's shoes. Unleash is a cool mechanic but mostly for Limited on the surface. However they are unlikely to ship the set without making sure there are at least a couple unleash creatures that will show up in Constructed. Look at Wolfir Silverheart and soulbond Paladin for a reminder of how easy it is to overlook creatures with the new "Limited" mechanic.
Does this mean that straight Rakdos is going to start showing up? Well if we learned one lesson from the original Ravnica it is that Karoos are good in Limited. However if we learned two the other would be that any color pair promoted with a Ravnica guild automatically calls for a two-color deck of those colors to appear.
Moment of silence for the Karoos as well as a word of thanks for them not returning. Trust me they would not be as fun now that nearly everyone knows the secret or would week #1...
While R/B is sure to show up the mana is definitely there to support a third color splash (at least for Jund or Grixis). The least popular three-color combination of all time Dega (R/B/W) isn't going to be supported until Gatecrash hits (giving us R/W and B/W). We do have Overgrown Tomb and Steam Vents however. Let's take a look at some of those mana bases.
There is so much to understand about Return to Ravnica's realigning of the color pairs. Outside of just understanding the world where U/B and R/G have to take a step back there is a lot of depth to the impact this will have on what three-color decks are possible. The three-color combinations that will be supported by multiple guilds in Return to Ravnica are:
Technically W/G/B was Necra around the time of Apocalypse but the term "Junk" (so named because of a popular W/G/B strategy years ago) has probably overtaken it in common usage.
This is not to say that you can't play Naya or Esper just that you are going to only have one guild worth of support instead of two. This is much more of a cost than just the mana (although that alone should be a powerful deterrent). You are also missing out on gold cards and support for the guild mechanics.
Junk is interesting in that it is the only three-color combination that will get two green shocklands in Return to Ravnica. Once you factor in that shortage of Llanowar Elf we discussed earlier we are starting to talk some pretty big incentives to play Junk (and gain a powerful Arbor Elf package) if you like green acceleration.
Raka's most interesting feature is that it is the three-color combination that gives us two blue dual lands. This is valuable not only for control but for aggressive blue decks that might take advantage of having untapped duals on turn 1. Delver will be losing a lot but it will surely be gaining a lot. I wonder if the first generation of Delver decks will be straight U/W taking advantage of Azorius being one of the five guilds or if they will add the easy red splash for burn and sweet gold cards.
Finally we come to Bant the biggest question mark on our list. What benefits from multiple sick white dual lands? What theme will link the Azorius cards and the Selesnya ones? What will be the primary reason to go this color combination instead of any other?
Return to Ravnica has a pretty big name to live up to. If the first 40-50 cards are any indication it appears to be well on its way to doing just that. What cards or mechanic should I explore next week?
See you then!