After a hurricane-filled absence last month, I’m back with Flavor Gems of Guilds of Ravnica! This set did some intriguing things from a Vorthos perspective, so I’m going to be breaking it down into a few categories. This will probably end up being a wordy enough piece, so let’s dive in!
There’s more to the story here than just what is on the story spotlights, which are themselves fairly vague this time around. You’ll need all your sleuthing skills to get the full picture of just what is happening on Ravnica right now. I should begin with noting that the Story Spotlights are no longer numbered, which appears to be because they wanted some more freedom in reordering story events. This will, hopefully, give the outside writers some greater flexibility in crafting their stories.
The first card I want to talk about is Mausoleum Secrets, which appears to be the secret prologue story spotlight, based on the story Pride of the Kraul. In that tale, the Kraul shaman Mazirek uncovers an ancient army of zombies (and liches) called the Erstwhile, presumably to support Vraska’s bid for taking over the Golgari. Undercity Uprising picks up after Rivals of Ixalan, with the Golgari under Vraska’s control. Why does she need the Erstwhile, then? While she may be bumping off the former guild leader (Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord’s fate is as yet unknown but prospects are grim), that doesn’t mean everyone else is going to get in line. An army backing up her claim will certainly help with the transition.
Guild Summit and Assassin's Trophy seem to depict Vraska bumping off Isperia, Supreme Judge Why? Well, Vraska is working for Nicol Bolas right now. Isperia’s death is about the only update we get on the Azorius in Guilds of Ravnica, but since they’re not the focus until the next set, that’s not a big deal.
Large gatherings of planeswalkers never end well in Magic.
Thousand-Year Storm by Dimitar
Command the Storm show us that Ral, Izzet Viceroy is now de facto leader of the Izzet in Niv-Mizzet’s absence. And he’s got a problem: in Thousand-Year Storm, we’re told that Project Lightning Bug is detecting a large number of planeswalkers arriving on the plane.
But what is Niv-Mizzet up to? Firemind's Research (both versions) offer some intriguing clues. I’ve spoken about what I think is going on with with Ral at length last year in Ral Zarek and the Elder Dragon, and I don’t have anything to add to that piece yet.
Sinister Sabotage’s flavor text tells us that, despite being the primary antagonists of the first two Ravnica blocks, the Dimir are working against whatever outside plot is about to impact Ravnica. And they’re targeting the Izzet! I wonder where Lazav got that info? I had suspected Jace might take an active leadership role with the Dimir, but clearly Lazav is still around.
Maniacal Rage and Street Riot depict the Gruul finally getting fed up with the way they’ve been pushed to the fringes of Ravnica society, as keepers of wilds that no longer exist. Street Riot even shows Domri taking an active role!
I love it when two or more cards tell a story, like is the case in Citywide Bust and Collar the Culprit. Like a Ravnican episode of Cops, this poor ogre’s arrest makes a great combo. Bonus points for Wojek in Citywide Bust telling the ‘cameraman’ to get moving. Double Bonus points for Victor’s amazing references. If there’s a great expression to be had on one of his cards, you’d best check his twitter.
Bonus, giant ref. pic.twitter.com/yZUKK3YUux— Victor Adame (@victoradameart) September 19, 2018
Bonus, photo ref. and maquette. pic.twitter.com/gmev1CQeWP— Victor Adame (@victoradameart) September 19, 2018
Conclave Tribunal appears to be the card that the art for Isolate was originally taken from. It’s interesting to see the two artist’s takes on the same card, each piece of art having its own unique feel while still very much showing that ‘Selesnyan Removal’.
One of the great things about Ravnica is just how much history and mystery lies beneath the city proper. Ravnica is a cityscape that has been built on top of previous cityscapes until no one is quite sure what was there to begin with, anymore.Drowned Secrets shows that something mysterious and possibly horrific is always lurking.
Goblin Locksmith continues a longstanding tradition of goblins being very bad at their chosen professions. Goblin Locksmith is no exception, as he’s smashing through an already open door. Legion Warboss is the next card in a legacy of goblins like Boros Recruit and Legion Loyalist joining the Boros Legion, but I especially love the title. “Boss” is a great title for goblin cards, (like Krenko, Mob Boss) and I can only imagine a goblin-only Boros unit operating… well not exactly by the book.
Rubblebelt Boar names the Gruul boar god for the first time in print. Ravnica is a world where your gods are often not just visible, but actively leading your guild. The Gruul having a true mythology in that scenario is a great juxtaposition to the rest of the guilds. Note: Some Gruul consider the nephalim themselves as gods, but it hasn’t ever been brought up again after the novel Guildpact.
Running gags in Magic are always great.
March of the Multitudes by Zack Stella
March of the Multitudes is our first confirmed appearance of Fblthp this set. While we’re unlikely to see the perpetually lost homunculus get a card in a proper Ravnica set, I’m hoping the Ravnican in-joke gets a real card soon.
Did you notice the random cats in Narcomoeba, Goblin Cratermaker, and Affectionate Indrik? Generous Stray isn’t the only kitty! Although I do enjoy that people.. can trip over Generous Stray’s present… GET IT?
There’s a definite noir vibe to Ravnica this time around, and I want to call out Hunted Witness, Creeping Chill, Whispering Snitch, Vicious Rumors, and Tajic, Legion's Edge for exemplifying the genre. I especially love Tajic taking on the role of the glamorous starlet or wealthy widow so archetypical in noir.
No seriously, look at this piece. Then look at it some more.
Enhanced Surveillance by Greg Rutkowski
Haazda Marshal - Haazda are a sort of guildless militia/law enforcement. Outside of the districts proper they’re the primary source of law and order on Ravnica, although they have way less training and resources than their guild equivalents.
Ledev Guardian and Ledev Champion - Ledev are the Selesnyan’s highway patrol. Mounted guardians of Ravnica’s roadways charged with keeping them safe for travellers. Tolsimir Wolfblood from the original Ravnica: City of Guilds is a Ledev.
Parhelion Patrol - The Parhelion was the Boros skyship from the original Ravnica: City of Guilds. It was built by the angels using the leftover technology of an era where planeswalkers came and went from Ravnica frequently. It was destroyed after it crashed into the old Azorius Senate, Prahv, and then subsequently exploded.
Lotleth Giant - The Lotleth are the previous undead army of the Golgari. It’s not clear if they’ve integrated with the Erstwhile or if the Golgari have two different undead armies.
Kraul Swarm - The Kraul are an insectoid race belonging to the Golgari guild, whose prominence this set is due to Vraska raising their stature as part of her coup.
Devkarin Dissident - The Devkarin are the tribe of elves that belong to the Golgari. There is no love lost between them and the Silhana elves of the surface.
Erstwhile Trooper - The Erstwhile were the army of ancient fungal zombies unearthed by Mazirek as part of Vraska’s coup.
Ochran Assassin - The Ochran are an order of assassins that Vraska belongs to.
Sumala Woodshaper - The Sumala is an emmense topiary grove maintained by the Selesnyans. Most of the wooded scenes you see in this set appear to take place there.
Vernadi Shieldmate - A Vernadi is a Selesnyan commune
Niv-Mizzet, Parun - A Parun is an original signatory of the Guildpact. Some Parun were longer lived than others, with Niv-Mizzet being one of the few remaining Paruns.
Some of the biggest flavor wins are hidden away in the Masters Edition. While all of these cards are quite good, a few stand head and shoulders above the others. The first and best of which is the new art for Elspeth, Knight-Errant, which features Elspeth in the underworld. Now, something like this happening was pretty obviously foreshadowed years ago in the original Theros block, but finally seeing it after all of these years is phenomenal. Zack Stella’s artwork nails it, as Elspeth is pretty clearly shown with her stab wound from Heliod. She holds her Funerary Mask, forged of the Godsend (see the two gleaming circles), but she hasn’t put it on yet. She’s not a Returned… yet.
Elspeth, Knight-Errant by Zack Stella
Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast is intriguing in that it places the planeswalker on Kaladesh rather than Fiora. Most of the planeswalkers in this are placed at their home plane or last known location, so Daretti’s placement here is potentially telling. Kaladesh is my favorite plane, and Daretti one of my favorite planeswalkers, so I’m hoping we see both again soon.
The others are still great, but I only have a few more notes about the art. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria appears to depict Teferi with the needle-thin mountains of Dominaria during the Time Spiral Crisis behind him. It appears like multiple seasons are going on around him as well. Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, in case you hadn’t figured it out yet, is the Planar Bridge. This art makes sure you know it. Vraska, Golgari Queen’s Masterpiece art is still carrying the Thaumatic Compass, and looking like she knows something is missing.
That’s it for today! Check back with me for two weeks as I dive into the characters of Ravnica!