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99 Problems: Guilds of Ravnica Review

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You always have to take a grain of salt when it comes to card evaluations, especially when it comes to a casual format like Commander. With competitive formats, it's easier to say which cards are "better" since eventually the meta all comes down from MTGO and the Pro Tour/Grand Prix. There are objectively better cards and decks because the goal is to win. Sometimes that means going the obvious route, other times it's finding the path no one has taken (See my article a few weeks ago (Vol 2, Issue 1)).

On the other hand, Commander is completely different since there are so many options and play groups you have to speak in more broad terms when it comes to talking about cards, especially for the first time you see them. My playgroup and LGS differs from yours, there are different values and styles that matter more than others.

This is why some people get upset at the Rules Committee (The Non-Wizards of the Coast group the maintains the banned list for Commander). They have a certain style and a meta where they play and it reflects on the banned list. They've always said "Use house rules" and I completely agree, if you have a card that's too powerful when you play with your friends, ban it.

This also comes down to evaluating cards. There are cards that I think are better for my decks and against the decks I play against and will rank them a bit higher than other people might. I recognize this and I'm telling you upfront: most of the reviews for these cards are going to be based on my knowledge and try to be as general as possible while suggesting how it might get used. And all I'm asking you to do is the same thing: think if it would apply to you. If the idea of using X card in Y way has never occurred to you, then use it. If you think the idea is silly and I'm over/under selling the card, make your voice heard.

Oh, Assassin's Trophy is not the best card in Guilds of Ravnica for Commander.

(Cut to Title Sequence. Intro Music: Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears)

This is the third time that Wizards has built a Ravnica block, and they have become exceedingly efficient at it. In general this set is, well, I'm not as a big fan of it for Commander as some other people might be. There's stuff in the set I like, but all in all, it just looks like an ordinary multicolored set. It's not bad, but it's not as exciting as Dominaria was.

Before I start with the review, I want to tell you how I evaluate cards for Commander. Since it's a non-rotating format, you can have almost any card ever printing in Magic in your deck. Because of that, there's a high barrier of entry to make an impact in the format. Of course, this all depends on your budget, personal card pool and your willingness to play certain cards. To grab my attention cards need to do one or more of the following things:

  1. Do something never done before
  2. Do something cheaper than before
  3. Do something more powerful than before
  4. Do something a different way than before

And to look at these things doesn't mean power creep by any means. The standard Wrath effect is Wrath of God, of course. Not playing that card means there must be a cheaper Wrath effect, or one that does something that makes it more interesting. Like I mentioned two weeks ago, Fumigate costs 3ww instead of Wrath's 2ww, but it can gain you life, which might be worth that extra mana. That's a clear cut example of something interesting I'm looking towards when it comes to evaluating cards.

The other aspect, for me personally, is if it will fit the theme of the deck. If it's a Dragon, I'll consider it to go into my Dragon deck. If it's an effect that synergizes with putting lands onto the battlefield, I'll look at that with my Landfall deck. If there's a deck where I have an idea to put it in, I'll be more interested in it than usual, obviously.

So what I've done is sort my review into three sections: Cards that will find their niche home, good solid cards, and the cards that excite me the most. Cards with niche homes means there might be a Commander or two that wants this effect, or a style of play that that can use it. Good solid cards aren't staples, but they'll be considered when you play the colors the card has. Exciting cards are just that, they alter decks and change the game. The "better" the card, the more I'll dig into it. Most every card in the set will see some play in Commander somewhere, but you don't need a 259 card review of the set. Not even LSV does that.

Without further ado, the first annual Guilds of Ravnica Commander set review.

Cards that will Find their Niche Home

Citywide Bust - Rare

Here's another variant of the Wrath effect I was talking about earlier. If you're playing a weenie style deck or are more aggressive, this is the what you're looking for. Creatures with 4 toughness are right in that sweet spot where you can still keep some small powerful creatures. Has to fit the deck to make it work.

Demotion - Uncommon

At one mana, the ability to shut off activated abilities is huge. Place it on a Commander and your opponents can't even block with it to "reset" the Legendary Creature. It's cute, and you might see it from time to time.

Light of the Legion - Rare

The death trigger only giving the +1/+1 counters to White creatures knocks this down for me. Obviously good in a Mono-White deck, but there might be other things you want to cast for six mana.

Venerated Loxodon - Rare

At most you get to add five +1/+1 counters when it's cast. It can't be blinked to abuse it. You can send it back to your hand and pump up your army, but it's slow.

Drowned Secrets - Rare

Good in a Blue deck. What really saves this card is that you can select any player, including yourself. Get something like a Palinchron combo going and go off with Brain Freeze. Again, limited appeal.

Omnispell Adept - Rare

Here's Blue's answer to Elvish Piper. According to the Guilds of Ravnica Release Notes, this allows you to "cast" a Sorcery even if it wasn't your turn. It's a fun card but has a target on its back when it's played.

Gruesome Menagerie - Rare

One of those cards that you need to build your deck around to make it work. Eternal Witness has a converted mana cost of 3, which means you can bring this back. I imagine there's a combo there somewhere.

Kraul Swarm - Uncommon

Anytime you can return a creature from your graveyard to your hand, you should be looking at it a little more closely. The discarding a creature card is a bug, not a feature. Well, the Swarm is a bug too...

Lotleth Giant - Uncommon

It only hits one opponent with its Undergrowth effect. It can be blinked, but at seven mana it should be doing a huge amount of damage to make it worth it.

Book Devourer - Uncommon

Trample with a creature that can refill your hand is intriguing. Requiring you to have cards in your hand already to do so is a bummer, though.

Electrostatic Field - Uncommon

If you've got that "infinite storm" deck, now you've got a way to kill all your opponents at once.

Experimental Frenzy - Rare

Someone somewhere is going to love this card. And that person will put it in a Zedruu deck and give it to the player not playing Red because of course they will.

Gravitic Punch - Common

Warning: Newer players to Commander will want this to count for Commander Damage; but, remember, Commander Damage only comes from Combat. However, hitting a face with a bigger creature is pretty satisfying for four mana, especially when you can Jump-start it. So you may not need Commander damage to finish someone off.

Portcullis Vine - Common

Auto-include in a Arcades deck.

Impervious Greatwurm - Buy-a-Box Promo

It's the largest non-Un creature at 16/16. It's indestructible, but it doesn't have Trample. Just pair it with Gravitic Punch.

Beacon Bolt - Uncommon (Izzet)

Again, one of those cards that's great if you're playing a ton of spells instead of permanents. This can be huge for you. It doesn't count itself when cast, nor Jump-started.

Firemind's Research - Rare (Izzet)

You would think that Izzet might have something with spells. You'd be right.

Glowspore Shaman - Uncommon (Golgari)

Do you want to run this or Dakmor Salvage? Salvage because it's a land? Maybe?

Ionize - Rare (Izzet)

Two damage just Izzet that much in a format where you start out with 40 life. But it's not nothing.

Mnemonic Betrayal - Rare (Dimir)

It's a "fixed" Shaman's Trance, which is a counter to Yawgmoth's Will. Hey, I bet you didn't know Shaman's Trance existed. Now you know.

Ral, Izzet Viceroy - Mythic (Izzet)

It's a Planeswalker, so people will want to play it. You can run it in any ur deck because of the +1 ability. The others are just groovy.

Swathcutter Giant - Uncommon (Boros)

I've seen people mention this with Basilisk Collar and Scythe of the Wretched to clear battlefields. Just thought I would pass it along.

Swiftblade Vindicator - Rare (Boros)

I'm sure there's a wr enchantment/Equipment based deck that wants this. Look above for more suggestions

Thief of Sanity - Rare (Dimir)

The unique aspect of this card is that you can still cast the card exiled even if Thief of Sanity leaves the battlefield (so says the Guilds of Ravnica Release Notes). That type of effect never happens. If you like those type of effects, here you go.

Underrealm Lich - Mythic (Golgari)

I don't know how many Green Zombies there are (there are 21, wait, really?), but this has a new way to get multiple cards into your graveyard. Does Karador want this card? I'm sure Muldrotha does.

Vraska, Golgari Queen - Mythic (Golgari)

The other Planeswalker in the set. Her first ability is a poor Infernal Tribute and her second is a sorcery speed Abrupt Decay, which some people do run in Commander. It's her Ultimate, which sadly I don't think you'll get to often enough, that makes her interesting. Go Timmy players.

Connive // Concoct - Rare (Dimir)

I'm more interested in the Concoct side of this card (Connive is just a fixed Entrancing Melody). The trick with Concoct is that you can put a large Eldrazi into the graveyard with the Surveil and then put it into play because the shuffle trigger doesn't happen until after the spell finishes resolving. It's cute, and you've been warned.

Invert // Invent - Uncommon (Izzet)

Ignoring the errata that has already been issued for this card, it's the Invent side that is key here. You get to search your library for an instant or sorcery card... Wait... and/or. Oh... this card is in the wrong spot...

Response // Resurgence - Rare (Boros)

Another attack phase, but with First Strike and Vigilance? Yeah, that works.

The Locket cycle - Common

Better than the Cluestones? Maybe. For twice the mana during the activation you can draw twice the cards. Some slower decks will love that. You mileage will vary. They're fine, which is about the most "okay" thing you can say about a card.

Good Solid Cards

Bounty Agent - Rare

It's not like White has was to recur small creatures.

See:Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants; Alesha, Who Smiles at Death; Bishop of Rebirth; Custodi Soulcaller; Debtors' Knell; Devoted Crop-Mate; Dusk // Dawn; Emeria Shepherd; Enduring Renewal, Immortal Servitude; Karmic Guide; Ojutai's Command; Order of Whiteclay; Pulsemage Advocate; Renegade Rallier; Return to the Ranks; Reveillark; Reya Dawnbringer; Sigil of the New Dawn; Sun Titan; Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle; Tethmos High Priest; Timely Hordemate...

Conclave Tribunal - Uncommon

Even though you can't use it to get rid of an opponent's Commander (I wish that was changed, but that's a topic of another column), getting another Blinding Light effect is always a nice bonus when you cast it for free.

Crush Contraband - Uncommon

It's almost a better Return to Dust, which currently sees play in 27,535 decks according to EDHRec. You don't have the timing condition as it can just exile whenever, you just can't hit two Artifacts or Enchantments at the same time. This is the definition of a good, solid card.

Dream Eater - Mythic

Bouncing a nonland permanent at instant speed while Surveilling 4. Run it with Deadeye Navigator and there's a good threat on the board. It helps you get to the end game in control builds and may sneak a win in on its own. The 3 toughness and the casting cost of 4uu means it just misses the top of this list.

Mausoleum Secrets - Rare

Instant speed tutor that's good in the mid to late stages of the game. A two-mana tutor is nothing to sneeze at but if you're playing Black there's a good chance that there's going to be a portion of your graveyard that will just be exiled out due to your opponents. This on an Isochron Scepter seems fun.

Midnight Reaper - Rare

It's not the new Dark Confidant, but you'll draw plenty of cards from it. Again, starting with 40 life means it won't hurt you at the beginning of the game. Be forewarned: it doesn't say may, you have to draw a take the damage. That's the tradeoff you get for a cheaper Harvester of Souls: damage and losing the may ability. Hint: It's worth it.

Necrotic Wound - Uncommon

One of the rare Undergrowth cards that you don't need any creatures in your graveyard to make it work. All it needs is for the creature to die for you to be able to exile it. Use it during attacking or blocking or during an infinite combo loop to surprise everyone.

Plaguecrafter - Uncommon

An upgraded Fleshbag Marauder (16992 decks), as it hits Planeswalkers as well. You get the bonus of opponents discarding a card when their board is empty. Players who already use Fleshbag Marauder will just slide this alongside it. Gets around that pesky "hexproof" cards as well since it doesn't target.

Ritual of Soot - Rare

This was caught between the last section and this one. So why does this get the bump and not Citywide Bust? Because Tokens have a Converted Mana Cost of 0, unless they're copying another creature. Sometimes you don't want to kill everything, just the smaller stuff. It might just end up as a roleplayer in most builds but in the right playgroup it might become more feared.

Goblin Cratermaker - Uncommon

It hits artifacts and Eldrazi. If you want some extra fun, put a Distorting Lens in your deck. Of course that might be a little overkill for just one card, so maybe something like Ersatz Gnomes. I mean, look at that art. Again, it's just a good solid card, (The Cratermaker, not the Gnomes) that depends on your playgroup.

Hatchery Spider - Rare

Another one of the cards floating between niche cards and solid cards. I'm going with solid here as it can become a game ender when you cast it late in games (No blinking tricks here). It can find permanents instead of just creatures which might be useful with Planeswalkers and enchantments. The 5/7 body is big enough to fend off a number of threats in the air. It's got enough pieces to make it work all together.

Goblin Electromancer - Common (Izzet)

A reprint, I was just going to leave it off since people who use the card know it's good. But to the newer players out there, it's a good card if you're in ur and want to go the Instant and Sorcery path. Also, it's a Wizard, so it's got that going for it, which is nice.

House Guildmage - Uncommon (Dimir)

Here's only Guilds of Ravnica Guildmage I'm even looking at for Commander. The tap abilities slow it down and don't make them as fun, but the trick with the Dimir version is that you can Surveil 2. It's like Scrying 2, but better. It can fit into multiple ub strategies which is the key here. I've put Crystal Ball into many decks and while it does cost more, House Guildmage can completely shape a game better than the artifact can.

Knight of Autumn - Rare (Selesnya)

Already crowned as the Modern all-star, besides Assassin's Trophy (I'm getting to it), it's good enough to see play in Commander. It's meant to be flashy, it's a nice utility creature that if you can keep bringing back (See: Bounty Agent), that will be just all right. Just run it with something like Panharmonicon, okay?)

March of the Multitudes - Mythic (Selesnya)

Instant speed token creation that can double the number of creatures you have? And it has Fblthp in the art? Not much to dislike about it. The lifelink is nice on the creatures, but they're just 1/1's. Sometimes all you need is the numbers though.

Notion Rain - Common (Dimir)

Ravnica is the Matrix: Confirmed. In this section they don't have to be flashy to shop up here. There's plenty of utility cards and that's what this is. Read the Bones is in 13374 decks, so this can go along side it.

Discovery // Dispersal - Uncommon (Dimir)

Another utility card. I love Recoil, and this is a multiplayer version of that card. Usually you'll want to bounce their largest threat, so it's not always such a drawback here. If you're playing with teams here, it does say opponent, so you don't screw over your partner. It does cost 3ub, but it does hit all of the bad guys.

Expansion // Explosion - Rare (Izzet)

I think for most of these split cards I prefer the non-hybrid side as they tend to be a little more powerful and useful. Not Invoke the Firemind, this is better. You can hit any target and any player can draw the cards. So sure, you can burn one opponent out while decking another one. Or just hit your Stuffy Doll and draw those cards yourself. Also an instant, a huge upgrade over Invoke the Firemind's Sorcery.

Invert // Invent - Uncommon (Izzet)

It took a while from the other section, but it's here now. There are almost no Blue or Red cards that just tutor for spells and put them in your hand. The fact that you can get both if you want is laughable. I mean, you can laugh, like the evil Izzet wizard that you are.

Status // Statue - Uncommon (Golgari)

It's a Putrefy that can also hit Enchantments for one mana more. Sure, they can still regenerate, but Wizards doesn't design cards with regenerate anymore.

The Guildgate Cycle - Basic Land Rarity

These are replacing basic lands in booster packs. You should be able to get your full playset of these cards. They're good cards, Brent.

What Excites me the most

Finally we're to my Top 10 cards of the set. These are the cards that I want for the whole set to be previewed before I even start brewing decks. These are the types cards that can cause me to shift how a deck is made. Maybe there's a new card in here that wants me to build around it (hint: Yes). We've got more Whisperers than the Dog Whisperer.

10. Shockland Cycle - Rare - Colorless

We're going to start out with these beauties. This is the third time they've been reprinted in a set (excluding the Zendikar Expeditions) and they're still good. You don't need them to play, but they do make life easier. My advice is make sure you have a playset, and enough for your Commander decks, then a few more of each. Players will always want these cards and they will still hold value. You've got a bunch of different arts to choose from as well (I've got a print of the original Ravnica Temple Garden signed by Rob Alexander hanging on my wall). The two life doesn't matter in Commander if you have to play something right away. There were intense debates on the internet if these cards were going be reprinted. Yes, forever and always.

9. Chromatic Lantern - Rare - Colorless

The other major reprint in the set. It color fixes your lands and, oh, it can tap for anything itself. This is a true staple in decks running three or more colors. Make no mistake: this will save your deck-building choices for lands when you have this out. Because it doesn't actually change your lands into other land types, the ability to tap for any color still sticks with cards like Blood Moon and Blood Sun. If it wasn't a reprint I would put this higher on the list, but let's focus on the new cards.

8. Quasiduplicate - Rare - Blue

With a name that gets surprisingly easier to read the more you see it, there's nothing wrong with copying your creatures. What sets this apart is the cost of the Jump-start compared to Cackling Counterpart's Flashback cost. 1uu, Discard a card is much easier to stomach than 5uu. You lose the Instant speed, but it completely makes up for more than halving the cost to cast it again.

7. Beast Whisperer - Rare - Green

Green doesn't get true draw (Ignore Harmonize, it hurts me as a color pie enthusiast). We've had Primordial Sage (from the original Ravnica set as well) and Zendikar Resurgent for a while now, but the problem is that they cost six and seven mana respectively. This is a huge shift in deck because this is now a feasible play:

Turn one Land, Elf.

Turn two, Land, Cultivate.

Turn three, Land, Beast Whisperer, (Greenbelt Rampager/Wirewood Symbiote)

And I'm not even getting to a turn two Beast Whisperer with Sol Ring. It changes the tempo of the game by being able to come down turns quicker than your other options. This is game changing for Green and gives those rush decks a much better chance at recovering now.

6. Camaraderie - Rare - Multicolored (Selesnya)

Speaking of Green draw... Listen, I don't care about the +1/+1 to all of your creatures. I kinda wish it was a +1/+1 counter, but if you've got a lot of creatures, then it would've been a whole lot of counters. I love the combination of gaining life and drawing cards, and even if it's tied to the number of creatures you control then that's fine. You're playing Commander, so there's a good chance in these colors that you'll have a bunch of creatures to count from this. It's Shamanic Revelation, but with the splash of White to gain you life. This can work in control build or aggro/midrange ones that want to refill their hand.

And now, Intermission.

5. Doom Whisperer - Rare - Black

The better of the two Whisperers, the stats on this one are unbelievable. For 3bb you get a 6/6 flying trample with no drawback. Instead, you get the option of paying 2 life to surveil 2. I've been choosing a bunch of Surveil cards in this review because I like the mechanic and I think it's pretty powerful, especially when it can both dig through your library and fill your graveyard. The fact that this Surveil ability is not on a 1/1 body for b is hugely surprising. This large demon can be a nightmare for your opponents when you get this onto the battlefield.

4. Dawn of Hope - Rare - White

If Green can't draw cards, then White is absolutely barren by comparison. Here are the mono-White options you have in Commander for drawing cards that aren't a Cantrip:

Armistice; Convalescent Care; Inheritance; Kor Spiritdancer*, Martyr's Cry; Mentor of the Meek; Mesa Enchantress*; Puresteel Paladin*; Pursuit of Knowledge; Sage's Reverie*; Spiritual Focus; Sram, Senior Edificer*; Stone Haven Outfitter*; Survival Cache, Temporary Truce; and Truce.

The cards with asterisks were ones that were based around enchantment or artifact based decks. There is a complete dearth of White card draw. With Dawn of Hope, there's a little more. Sure, it's based on lifegain and if it just had the first part I would've put it in the previous section. But the fact that it can sustain itself by creating 1/1 Soldier tokens with lifelink allows you to block, gain life, and draw cards. One of my favorite Johnny cards is Well of Lost Dreams. While this doesn't draw you as many cards, it can finally give White something that it's been missing in a non-Color Pie breaking way.

3. Thousand-Year Storm - Mythic - Multicolored (Izzet)

For the full wackiness that Magic can hold, this is one of those times. Casting a Ponder and then a Brainstorm nets you two Brainstorms (I don't think you can Brainstorm wrong here), and then a Time Warp will give you three Time Warps (The copies don't count toward the "Storm" count here). The potential for breaking the game in half is all contained within this card. It works extremely well with counterspells and instant draw/bounce because it mentions "during this turn" and not "during your turn." This is an immediate staple in Izzet decks and looks both fun and extremely annoying to play against in the right deck.

2. Assassin's Trophy - Rare - Multicolored (Golgari)

This is a very, very, very good card. Keep that in mind when I say this: It's just a removal spell. It doesn't win you the game. Exiling anything, including Lands, is huge, but that's all. It might help the board position or something that you can use as political fodder. You shouldn't care about your opponent getting the basic land because you removed a threat. It's undercosted and just so, so good. But it's still only a removal spell.

1. Divine Visitation - Mythic - White

This card reshapes decks. In a format where you can have tokens of any size, suddenly they can become 4/4 flyers? This is a statement card. Avenger of Zendikar with this on the board? Those 0/1 Plants become 4/4 Angels and I don't care about them not getting +1/+1 counters with the landfall trigger. Paired with Selesnya's Mythic March of the Multitudes, Instant speed 4/4 Angels equal to the number of creatures you control? Beacon of Creation creates 4/4 Angels for each Forest you control?

This card alone is making me rethink decks I've had for years. My Trostani, Selesnya's Voice was about big tokens to gain life and populate. But if I have this in play and create tokens with Doubling Season and Rhys the Redeemed? Is it worth it? It's something to debate in the upcoming weeks when I take the guilds one week at a time.

That's it for today. The review pieces are always pretty long. Maybe you've noticed that I didn't talk about any Legendary Creatures. True, I'll save them for the guild weeks I've got coming up. We've got some time between when Guilds of Ravnica releases and the end of the year we can go exploring into the colored pairs. If there was a card you thought should've been on here or one I just thought of too highly (I imagine it might be Dawn of Hope), feel free to leave a comment below or tweet at me (@mtgcolorpie).

Join me next week when I talk about a creature type that has no earthly business being on Ravnica no matter how many fanfics you write and why sometimes gatekeeping can be good. I'm revising a deck I haven't touched in years. Until then, remember, it's okay to like cards no one else does: Magic is a game you play for fun.