Ravnica Allegiance is here and like Guilds of Ravnica before it, there's a ton of Flavor Gems to talk about. What is interesting about our third visit to Ravnica is that despite being Magic's most visited plane outside of Dominaria, the lore of Ravnica is less important (and flavorful) than the evolution of the guilds over time. Ravnica's story began with a set almost completely disconnected from the story accompanying it, and Wizards wouldn't experiment with returning to telling story moments on cards in any real way until Theros, the block following Return to Ravnica. For the first time, we're getting Ravnica's story on the cards.
Ravnica Allegiance continues Guilds of Ravnica's trend of unnumbered story spotlight cards telling the story of Nicol Bolas's encroach on Ravnica. Where Vraska, Golgari Queen and Ral, Izzet Viceroy were shown to be under the elder dragon's influence in some way in the first set, in this set we get Dovin, Grand Arbiter, Kaya, Orzhov Usurper, and Domri, Chaos Bringer. The outsiders feel oddly at home, and Domri's arc feels appropriate for the Gruul planeswalker. I especially love that Dovin's name is a reference to Grand Arbiter Augustin IV (in Guilds, Vraska was a reference to Savra, Queen of the Golgari), the villain of Dissension.
Teysa and Kaya appear to have differing opinions on what's happening, here.
Ethereal Absolution by Eric Deschamps
Dovin's true allegiance isn't given to us subtly; Emergency Powers shows he's squarely in Bolas's corner. How he gets there we have yet to see, although the Art Book seems to indicate he tracked down Bolas himself, believing (correctly) that Tezzeret had a puppet master of his own. Meanwhile, I doubt it took much urging for Domri and the Gruul to attack the city in Rampage of the Clans. The Gruul have been simmering for two blocks shoved to the sidelines, and it's nice to see them finally let loose.
The plotline that really intrigues me, however, is Kaya and Teysa Karlov. You might recall from Regicide that Kaya has no fondness for spectral tyrants, and Kaya's Wrath comes out in full force. It's especially nice to see the incredibly long-simmering sub-plot from Teysa Karlov and Family Values finally come to fruition. According to the Art Book, Kaya is enticed into taking down the Obzedat, Ghost Council by a promise from Bolas to help her family, whatever that means. She arrives in Orzhova to find an ally in Teysa, but once the deed is done Kaya becomes Guildmaster and her policies (shown in Ethereal Absolution) leave much to be desired in Teysa's eyes.
The potential internet metaphors are strong, here.
Bedevil by Seb McKinnon
The Rakdos in Ravnica Allegiance have some of the best artwork and art direction of the set, and Seb McKinnon's work on Magic is always a treasure. I love Bedevil because of one small detail - none of these creatures are actually devils. They're all goblins in devil masks, marking this as one of the avant garde performances that the Rakdos are now known for. They've moved from circus acts to travelling troupes, and moving away from the purely circus imagery has done wonders.
There's a reason Fblthp always hated crowds...
Captive Audience by Dmitry Burmak
Every single face in this artwork tells a story, but my personal favorite is the appearance of Fblthp of Totally Lost fame. Fblthp pops up in a bunch of artwork, most frequently hidden "Where's Waldo" hidden in random pieces. Runner-up is the discerning goblin in front who is not entertained (yet) and the Azorius looking down at some bloodshed in a very matter-of-fact way. Which reaction is your favorite?
Jace had always wanted to be real boy.
Cult Guildmage by Victor Adame Minguez
The Rakdos as lampooners of the Ravnican elite in their shows is pretty perfect, but honestly I don't think there is anyone alive who isn't in love with Puppet Jace. As the Living Guildpact, of course he would be a major target, but that puppet is just so perfect on every level. It's a brilliant touch... and did you know that it's real?
Bonus models. pic.twitter.com/tD43C7j4Ld— Victor Adame (@victoradameart) January 8, 2019
Victor is the king of the real-life references materials (I seem to link to one of his references every set), and that Jace Puppet is going to be a very sought after item in the future.
Who needs the Dimir when you've got the Ravnican Patriot Act?
Depose // Deploy by Sara Winters
Thopters are now on Ravnica, and honestly they couldn't be more at home with the Azorius. Azorius is all about the flying creatures, and having these spy drones transplanted from the Consulate's Thopter Spy Network on Kaladesh to become the orwellian tools of the Azorius is perfect. You can still see the Kaladeshi influence, down to the paisley-inspired body and tail, but with the added twist of the Azorius law magic imagery acting as the wings.
ILHARG COMES! WITNESS ME!
End-Raze Forerunners by Mathias Kollros
The Zhur-Taa are the only remaining clan to believe in what's known as the Old Ways, the original shamanistic religion of the Gruul. They worship the gods of the deep earth, the Utmungr, and believe that Ilharg the Raze-Boar will bring about an end of civilization known as the End-Raze. They believe that the End-Raze is upon them, hence the heavy boar imagery among the Gruul this set. This is the extent of what we know about the Old Ways.
Where is Ken Watanabe when you need him?
Titanic Brawl by Svetlin Velinov
Kaiju battles are as Ravnican as the guilds themselves, with Dissension seeing massive smack downs between the Nephilim, Rakdos, Kraj, and more as the city crumbles around them. Titanic Brawl captures that flavor perfectly, with a Gruul Giant (confusingly armored like a Selesnyan Elemental) fighting a giant Simic Krasis. But the flavor text is what seals the deal, referencing the very memeable tagline for Alien vs Predator: Whoever wins, we lose.
I say: Let them fight.
Verity Circle by Volkan Baga
Verity Circle is easily my favorite card in the set just from a pure flavor perspective. Why? Because it's something I never expected to see on a card itself. Verity Circles were introduced in Guildpact as a piece of law magic similar to D&D's Zone of Truth. Teysa Karlov took the concept to the next level with her trademark cane, surreptitiously using it to draw Verity Circles around the unsuspecting and eliciting surprise confessions before they realize what has happened.
Given that the original Ravnica: City of Guilds had a huge disconnect between the story and the cards, it's nice to see the Verity Circle make its way to the cards themselves.
Best of the Rest
Bring to Trial - The saga of the poor Gruul giant comes to a close. First he was caught in a Citywide Bust and the Boros officers arrested him in Collar the Culprit. While the design is slightly different, a similar giant (by the same artist, Victor Adame Minguez) finally has his day in court in Bring to Trial.
Frenzied Arynx - While Arynx aren't exclusive to Ravnica (see Lurking Arynx) they're worth mentioning here. Arynx in Magic appear to be the Green-aligned cousins of the more famous Felidar, a breed of horned cat beast. Where the Felidar are majestic, the Arynx are savage.
Gate Colossus - Back in the original Ravnica block, ten stone titans stood guard over Ravnica, appearing for all intents and purposes to be colossal statues until needed in a crisis. The tenth, Zobor, was destroyed during the events of the Decamillenial celebration (check out Preparing for Ravnica for more on that). Gate Colossus seems very much to be a reference to these towering guardians.
Skarrgan Hellkite - The dragon is wearing a hat. WHAT ELSE COULD YOU WANT? Do I even need to talk about how this is the first Gruul dragon, and is distinct from other known dragons on Ravnica? Do I need to talk about how it's been painted and enlisted by the Gruul? No! Look at the hat!
Priest of Forgotten Gods - Like Sanguine Praetor before it, Priest of Forgotten Gods seems to a reference to the Cult of Yore, who believe themselves stewards to Ravnica's secret history. The old gods or forgotten gods are references to the Nephilim, a race of powerful beings lurking deep beneath Ravnica.
The Haunt of Hightower - Ravnica has a couple distinct vampiric races, but none more unique than the Moroii, which is a name taken from Romanian folklore (which is appropriate for Ravnica's slavic setting). While some vampires drink thoughts and others drink blood on Ravnica, the Moroii drain your youth and vitality.
I did a Lexicon segment for Guilds of Ravnica Flavor Gems, so I won't be repeating Ravnican lingo that I already explained or defined there.
Concordia Pegasus - This is, presumably, a reference to the Great Concourse in Selesnya Territory.
Noxious Groodion - The Groodion are one of many creatures that lurk below Ravnica in the Undercity. A great callback to Drooling Groodion. The flavor text of the original Groodion seems to indicate the Groodion were bred by the Golgari.
Feral Maaka - Maaka are a six-eyed breed of giant cat found on Ravnica. This is only the second Maaka we've seen, and like the Groodion is a nice throwback to some of Ravnica weird and unique creatures.
Gravel-Hide Goblin - The Gravel-Hide Clan is a relatively new Gruul clan led by a goblin named Skorik Boulder Tooth. They believe resilience is the true test of strength.
Saruli Caretaker -The Saruli is a forested area of Ravnica seemingly controlled by the Selesnya, although not much in the way of specifics exist.
Silhana Wayfinder - The Silhana are one of the three elvish races that call Ravnica home. They're most commonly found in the Selesnya but it's not usual to find them guildless, too. Their dark brethren, the Devkarin, call the Golgari home. The name of the third race is long since forgotten, and their only known members belonged to the Simic.
Bolrac-Clan Crusher - The Bolrac Clan are made up exclusively of Ravnica's giant races (ogres, giants, cyclops, etc) and are known as the "Heavy Hammers". You can take a wild guess why.
Prime Speaker Vannifar - The position of Prime Speaker is elected by the Speakers of each of the Simic Combine's Zonots, the sinkholes to the ocean where the guild congregates.
Zegana, Utopian Speaker - Utopian Speaker isn't an actual political position among the Simic, but instead denotes that Zegana is the leader of the opposition to Vannifar's Adaptationists.
Vizkopa Vampire - Vizkopa Bank is the central hub of Orzhov commerce on Ravnica.
Sphinx of New Prahv - New Prahv is the Azorius guildhall shown on [Hallowed Fountain]. Why is it new? Well the Boros skyship Parhelion crashed into the original and exploded. The Parhelion was also rebuilt, and patrols the skies as Parhelion II.
That does it for Ravnica Allegiance proper, but with War of the Spark looming I'm sure there will be more flavor gems to cover! So let's turn to this set's Mythic Edition, featuring eight planeswalkers with brand new artwork! I'm going to start with my personal favorite.
Greatest Thief in the Multiverse
Dack Fayden by Jason Rainville
Dack Fayden is probably not a planeswalker you expected to see in Mythic Edition. The star of the original Magic: the Gathering comic series from IDW only appeared in card form in the original Conspiracy around a year after the cancellation of his comic. Dack's new art takes place on Fiora, his home plane and the setting of both Conspiracy and Conspiracy: Take the Crown. That's Paliano, the High City behind Dack, not the grand stadium of Valor's Reach on Kylem from Battlebond, as some have suspected. Turns out supplemental draft-centric sets like to focus on big landmarks in the clouds!
Jaya Ballard's new art places her outside of Keral Keep, the monastery she accidently inspired and where she lived secretly as Mother Luti for many years. It's the same spot where Chandra, Roaring Flame takes place, just with a little perspective shift (compare the doors around her to Chandra's full art). Kaya, Orzhov Usurper shows her lurking in Orzhova likely prior to killing the Obzedat. Karn, Scion of Urza stands proudly in front of what appears to be the one of the Tolarian Academies, like the one shown in Memorial to Genius. Tamiyo, the Moon Sage floats through a moonlit Ravnica, while Domri, Chaos Bringer rampages through Ravnica's streets.
The least distinct locations are Ajani, Mentor of Heroes and Sorin Markov. Ajani's stance is almost beatific, his hand posture reminiscent of a Buddhist statue. I'm neither an art scholar nor a religious one, so I'll leave the post to others to dissect. Regardless, Ajani has never looked more regal than in this random doorframe.
Sorin Markov is... not stuck in a wall any more, or hasn't been yet. It's not clear. Perhaps he is on a foggy Innistrad or Tarkir, but no obvious visual cues jump out to tell me where he might be.