Whether you started playing Magic on the playground, your local comic store, or the kitchen table, chances are you’ve put aside your urge to dominate and played some casual games in between grinding out drafts or playing Standard on Friday nights. There’s something absolutely magical (excuse the pun) about gearing up with two decks that vary from “so crazy it just might work” to “just plain crazy.”
If it’s a battle between a combo/aggro fusion of elemental warriors and a B/W goat control deck, chances are it’s a casual match. If your opponent is sporting a deck full of regenerating and Hexproof monsters and a playset of Worldslayers, my guess is that you’re playing a wonderful game of casual Magic. Now, while the mighty Worldslayer will never see play in a World Championship match, it (and decks like it) thrive on kitchen floor fights, bar stool battles, and dining room duels. Casual is a “format” that continues to breathe new life and bring new converts to the game that we appreciate together.
Nowhere is this truer than on a college campus. Throw a bunch of people together who don’t have the money to buy the best cards, blend that with a significant influx of free time, a desire to experiment and a healthy dose of insomnia and you have fertile ground for an exciting casual environment. As a college student myself and an avid lover of all things Magic, I’ve found that college provides an easy way to get together with some great people, play some awesome games and have a great time doing so.
Return To Ravnica looks to make some serious waves in the way our game is played (see: Vraska the Unseen [ed: see the Unseen? Unpossible!], Dreadbore, Abrupt Decay, and the shock lands). The set offers some truly amazing tools to deck builders of all kinds. RTR provides a level of flexibility both in terms of card power and utility that hasn’t been seen in a while. What’s truly exciting about our second trip to the Plane of Ravnica is the vast supply of tools that the set brings to players of casual Magic. Today, I humbly ask that you make me your tour guide through this vast metropolis and allow me to showcase some of the cards that I expect to see across from me during a game, whether I’m in the library or the residence hall.
White: Azorius Arrester
On the surface, this may appear like a strange choice for the first card to choose as one with some serious and exciting implications for casual play. After all, how many players were jacked up when they saw that Goblin Piker wasn’t making an appearance in M13? What’s truly exciting about Azorius Arrester in casual is a simple, two-syllable keyword called Detain.
There’s been a ton of speculation about the impact that Detain will have on Magic and what kind of impact it will have, if any, on the strategies that are popular with players. I have one word for you: tempo. It is my belief that Detain will help to catapult U/W tempo decks into ridiculous popularity and numerous victories. To see what I mean, simply look at the synergy this card has with other cards in the set. A two cost, aggressive white creature with a strong attacking ability plays well with the other creatures in this set with efficient costs and powerful abilities. You have the mighty Dryad Militant, the incredibly dangerous Lyev Skyknight, Stealer of Secrets and Faerie Imposte\or all helping to play their part in what should be an incredible deck. This recipe for speedy destruction gets even more dangerous when it comes to casual–a world with Counterspell, Mana Leak, Journey to Nowhere, and Unsummon. Detain provides a deck with both quickness, hitting power, and the excuse to experiment with an interesting new mechanic.
Honorable Mention: Martial Law. This card continues to make me salivate with thoughts of an amazing Detain deck. This card is much like a reoccurring Ice Cage but is harder to play around and more versatile because it can change targets every turn. Phantom General comes in just behind the powerful Azorius enchantment. Populate decks sound incredibly interesting. Having a 2/3 Honor of the Pure for four mana sounds like an excellent way to pump up an army of Spirit tokens created by Lingering Souls and multiplied by Populate.
Doorkeeper represents a blend of two kinds of decks that developers at Wizards of the Coast have been trying to push for years: Defender and mill. Mill decks have been around since the game’s inception and have been popular since then. For some reason, players of all stripes and skill levels seem to love the strategy and its unique path to victory. Perhaps it’s the allure of slowly grinding away your opponent’s deck until there’s nothing there but empty table space. Or it may be the excitement of having defeated someone without touching a single point of their precious life. Whatever the reason may be, people have been forever drawn to mill and the strategy has met with a limited amount of success. While popular in casual play, mill has begun to see some serious success in the limited format. In Innistrad block, B/U/G “mill yourself” decks were a serious, efficient and deadly threat that saw play at almost every level of competition.
Defender decks, on the other hand, have a stranger history than their library-munching brethren. Creatures with Defender have always been around in Magic even before “Defender” existed as a keyword. For the longest time these early cards were called “Walls” and they did exactly what their name suggested: they protected their owners from all manner of threats and misfortunes. While there were always people who dreamt of an all-wall deck, these people were delusional. In many cases, they were even chemically unbalanced (myself included). It wasn’t until Rise of the Eldrazi and a card named Vent Sentinel that defenders actually seemed to have a prayer. Spoiler alert: they didn’t and the Defender draft deck failed miserably.
Doorkeeper, however, is incredibly interesting because it provides a possible solution to the conundrum of Defenders and mill. The card may not seem great, except it combos very nicely with the other Defenders in Return to Ravnica. Doorkeeper seems poised to do some very interesting things for the casual player. At the very least it is perhaps the first step towards a new and compelling strategy.
Honorable Mentions: We begin with Conjured Currency. Honestly, this card is just so freaking weird that it begs to be built around. A deck with this, some Mind Control, Switcheroo, and Hexproof creatures could make for some hilarious times. I mean, honestly, the image of people swapping angry bears for goblin siege engines and Vampires for a Paladin is borderline ridiculous. And in multiplayer, Conjured Currency turns a normal game into an amusing mess in no time flat. Stealer of Secrets in the common slot is an easy third place. There are so many enchantments and equipment in casual that can turn this lovely rogue into a card advantage tornado. Whispersilk Cloak comes to mind both in terms of flavor and function.
Black: Grave Betrayal
Black looks to be the color to beat in Return to Ravnica casual play. The Unleash mechanic looks to do exactly what it says and release a tide of angry, murderously aggressive creatures into casual matches. Meanwhile, the Scavenge mechanic promises to add a new level of utility and longevity to decks everywhere, turning weenies into out-right threats and threats into game-breaking monstrosities. Grave Betrayal stands head and bony shoulders above the rest both because it meshes well with these new mechanics and because it is an amazing casual card on its own. For example, if I am locked in a fierce battle with my soon-to-be-designed Scavenge deck, then Grave Betrayal will be an excellent way to pad my army of nasty, fat-tastic creatures with the reanimated and pumped-up zombie versions of my opponent’s creatures. Likewise, if I happen to be rocking a sick Unleash deck and am caught in a vicious stalemate, I would be extremely happy if I managed to top-deck a Grave Betrayal to help me gain some momentum and push my way into the red zone (especially if I’ve been saving a lovely piece of removal in my hand.)
The other reason that I like this card for casual play is because it is so off-the-charts cool. I mean, look at it! There’s a skeletal dragon popping out of the ground! Is it going to wipe out 16 city blocks? Is it going to devour an entire residential district? You tell me. You’re the necromancer who thought it was a great idea to bring Puff the Magic Dragon back from the dead and empower him with necromantic magic. But, in all seriousness, this card is big, clunky, dramatic, and powerful–just the kind of card that every casual player loves to use and build around.
Honorable Mention: Thrill-Kill Assassin in the uncommon slot easily gets my pick. Simply by saying that she cannot block (and seriously who blocks anymore?) you get an aggressive attacking creature that can battle your enemies two drops with ease and trade later in the game for much larger threats. In terms of commons, I would have to give my nod to Stab Wound. For three mana, you get a removal spell that kills low toughness threats, makes bigger creatures substantially less scary, and in a pinch can put a serious hurting on your opponent’s life total.
Red has always been great stock for crazy amounts of burn, but very rarely do those spells extend past the simple design of “pay x do x damage to target creature and/or player.” Pyroconvergence takes that whole idea and chucks it out of the proverbial window (which I would imagine has to be high in a city full of enchanted skyscrapers) in favor of a synergy that cannot be beat. Multicolored spells completely dominated games during our first trip to Ravnica. One look at the spoiler reveals that the same should hold true for this set. Pyroconvergence takes this mechanic and encourages players to build complete strategies around simply playing multicolored spells. Suddenly, your multicolored creatures are Sorcery speed Shocks and your combat tricks are turned into devastating blowouts. With the right kind of deck, this card is pure value. Wonderful, destructive, fiery value.
What also helps to further my love for this card is that it takes me back to the days when I would play Magic on the playground with my friends. Those were the days when we knew nothing about things like spot removal, mana curve, or synergy. If we saw something cool, we would put it in a deck that just so happened to be the same color. I remember in the original Ravnica draft every one of us crammed our decks full of the first set’s Leylines and tried so hard to make them work. I remember one game in particular that stands as a testament to our obsession with Leylines. I was in the 8th grade playing against my friend Adam who was a year younger than me. Adam was wielding a R/G deck that happened to have Leyline of Lightning, against my B/R aggro deck. I still remember the excitement in the air during that game when Adam was able to cast Leyline of Lightning for free on the first turn. However, as great as his success was, it was only fleeting. My B/R aggro deck steamrolled both him and his free enchantment. Although we met with failure that day, Pyroconvergence gives me the chance to relive some of that nostalgia in all its glory.
Honorable Mention: Utvara Hellkite. One word: Dragons. Everybody loves Dragons. And the only thing cooler than a giant fire breathing lizard is one that multiplies and takes advantage of the previously mentioned Populate mechanic. And if you don’t understand why this card is cool, you should have your head examined–possibly by giant fire breathing lizards. Commons prove to be an equally interesting lot, but I have a soft spot for Traitorous Instinct. The card seems like it could prove interesting for any aggressive (or should we say Unleashed) deck that needs to get around a problem creature, or simply add another body to its offensive force.
Green: Wild Beastmaster
Green has tons of cards that are sure to have a lasting impact on Magic games. From the game-ending Worldspine Wurm to the strange piece of mana acceleration known as Mana Bloom and the return of GIANT GROWTH (yes THE Giant Growth), Green has a ton of cards that will prove to be the perfect balance between fun and powerful. The card that I am most excited to use in the games that I play has to be Wild Beastmaster. This card is absolutely fantastic when used with all the great ways to pump this creature and turn your small army into a massive force of unstoppable creatures. Especially when you consider the many ways that this creature can transform from a puny 1/1 into the beast she espouses to be. Cards like Angelic Destiny, the mighty swords from both Mirrodin blocks, as well as other excellent equipment such as Bonesplitter all exist to make this creature massive.
In addition to the many ways to increase the size of the Beastmaster, there’s also the matter of Return to Ravnica’s Populate mechanic which allows a skilled player to turn a single creature token into a veritable army within a few turns. Sure, those flying Spirits and grounded Saprolings don’t look impressive now, but just wait until you’re staring down six creature tokens and the Beastmaster that’s made all of your tiny creatures into 6/6’s, and then tell me that isn’t scary. Wild Beastmaster looks to become the General needed to lead an army of tokens into the hearts and decks of many a casual Magic player.
Honorable Mention: I absolutely love Axebane Guardian. He’s another Defender that proves to be incredibly useful. In slower green decks he stops the early 2/2’s and later on in the game he’s a Birds of Paradise on a massive scale. Brushstrider also looks to earn a niche in my heart. Long ago during the original Ravnica block I ran a G/W aggro deck full of Loxodon Hierarch, Watchwolf, and Blade of the Sixth Pride. But now Blade of the Sixth Pride is back, but in a different color and with Vigilance? Let the nostalgia begin.
Multicolored: The Charm Cycle
As I mentioned earlier in the article, multicolored spells were a staple of the original set of Ravnica and included some of the most popular and powerful cards ever made (do the words Loxodon Hierarch or Lightning Helix mean anything?) In Return to Ravnica, the multicolored spells look to be as amazing and flexible as their predecessors. This brings me to my choice of card(s): The Charms. Each of the four guilds in Return to Ravnica has been given a specific charm with three abilities for two mana at instant speed. With those stats working for them, it’s no wonder that I and many of my spell slinging peers are incredibly excited to try out the Charms for the versatility and fun that they offer.
Need to make a 2/2 Vigilance knight token to block your opponent’s 1/1? There’s a Charm for that. Need to wipe out some strategic cards in the graveyard? There’s a Charm for that. Want to win the game, seize victory from the claws and wings and angry words of the enemy creatures? There’s a Charm for that. If these things have any more versatility, I would have to shove them into a cell phone case and ask them for the fastest route home from the comic shop! These cards are efficient, fast, and reasonably priced: the perfect brew for casual Magic players of all sizes.
Honorable Mention: I have to admit that I cheered when I saw Mercurial Chemister. The guy looks like a crazy, fantasy version of Tony Stark in Izzet power armor. On top of that, his abilities are absolutely amazing. One mana to draw two at the end of your opponent’s turn, every turn is a beating and on top of that he can easily turn an unwanted draw into a veritable removal spell. Speaking of the Avengers, next we have Thor… I mean Archon of the Triumvirate. This card simply wins games and looks cool doing it. A 4/5 flier is nothing to sneeze at, but a 4/5 flier that takes two enemy creatures and their abilities out of combat simply by attacking is both awesome and absolutely devastating.
So there you have it: some of the cards that I am most looking forward to using and most expect to see played across from me whenever I get the chance to try them out. Hope you enjoyed the article. Happy playing!
— Kyle Ott
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