Were you slinging cards and cracking packs during the original Ravnica block that kicked off seven whole years ago? Ravnica was a renaissance for Magic. Coming off of several poorly balanced and/or weak sets, the guild mechanics and multi-colored theme of Ravnica captured the hearts of players and re-invigorated the game we all love. The first set even won the 2005 Origins Award for best CCG.
Is Return to Ravnica going to be your first experince in the Guild Wars? You may have noticed that Twitter and other social media sites exploded with hype over the spoilers revealed at the elaborate Magic Party at PAX. If you weren’t playing back in the original Ravnica block, the whole thing may have seemed a little far-fetched. It’s just another set right? Well, for many players this is watershed moment. Innistrad was a smashing success and Ravnica is a fan-favorite. Can Wizards knock it out of the park again? Will revisiting the site of Magic’s renaissance after Innistrad signal that another golden age of Magic is here to stay? To help evaluate this as the spoilers continue to unfold, we asked several members of the community to contribute their memories of the original Ravnica block.
This is Your Ravnica
My favorite Ravnica memory occurred at the Prerelease. Back then, TOs were still holding the big Prereleases. I remember sitting in a room of 500+ Magic players, everyone excitedly opening the first packs of the newest set. Everyone was wanting to pull “New Duals” as they were being called. There was an eruption of energy from different parts of the room as people opened them–a Watery Grave here, Sacred Foundry there. I specifically remember this kid standing up from his deck building seat to show off his new foil Temple Garden with the biggest smile on his face. His energy was infectious, but it turns out that the cure was looking down at my own sealed pool which prominently featured two Blood Funnels. I was determined to open these lands that everyone was so excited about and to do that, I needed more packs. I needed to win. So I focused on the pool I had in front of me and used the fantastic mana-fixing in the set to piece together a 4 color monstrosity that would eventually win a tournament filled with more narrow two-color decks.
“Those fools! There they go again trying to play Magic. When will they ever learn?” I’m thinking this to myself as I pass by my brother who is spell-slinging with our friend. See, I gave up on Magic during Homelands 10 years ago due to not having the time and (mostly) money to invest in deck building. I don’t know why I decide to look down at my brother’s board state. Maybe there’s some cool new gold card and I like gold cards. “What the fuck is that!?!” I ask as I point to a Dimir Guildmage. I pick up the card in bewilderment.
“What’s up with his mana cost, why’s it blue and black?”
My heart flutters as my brother explains hybrid mana.
When Ravnica was initially released, I wasn’t playing much sanctioned Magic. I preferred to battle 60 card decks on the kitchen table. It wasn’t until Time Spiral that I started playing at FNM on a weekly basis. My experience with Ravnica happened when it was on the way out and not so much on the way in. I very much identify myself as an R/G player so my first few stabs at standard were R/G decks full of burn and efficient creatures. Unfortunately, I didn’t win much. Before one FNM I borrowed a W/U/B control deck that my brother Stephen built since he was unable to make it and wanted to give it a few runs to see how it played. I fell in love with the deck! The only goal was to draw cards, counter and stall until you got to the late game where you could drop Angel of Despair and start flicking it with Momentary Blink to take out whatever threats your opponent presented.
The deck also ran other angels like the recently reprinted Reya Dawnbringer to make sure the Angel of Despair could keep coming back to wreak havoc. It also ran Adarkar Valkyrie to yank it back right away. The fun only lasted as long as the mana base and the Angel of Despair stuck around. Once Ravnica rotated the deck fell apart. To this day that deck represented the best of my short FNM career. I only ever lost to the one Dredge player at the store before Commander took over my Magic life.
I started to draft regularly when Ravnica came out. The first thing I realized is I love Signets. Even off-color Signets were amazing. Probably my favorite card was Remand. I hope they bring it back. I enjoyed it both in draft and constructed. I’ve never been a huge fan of W/R, but Lightning Helix and Firemane Angel definitely won me over and I played them both a lot. I really liked that a decent drafter could draft what they wanted and have a chance of winning. The set and block was not lopsided or overpowered in any color combination. Return to Ravnica has been a set I’ve been looking forward to since it rotated out of Standard. Hybrid mana, Signets, guilds, Remand, Lightning Helix, and stunning art. I can’t wait for it.
Impressive card design and an incredible power level came from the original Ravnica block. Who can forget the first time that they read Angel of Despair, Remand or Debtors’ Knell? After seeing those cards, that is all I wanted to play. Solar Flare is the fondest memory of blocks gone by that I have. The sheer power of Angel of Despair alone was enough to strike fear into the hearts and souls of your enemy. With Debtors’ Knell by the Angel’s side, having the board wiped was a non-issue. I do hope that Return to Ravnica brings with it some strong pillars of the past such as the shock lands. Having shock lands made a mana base so simple to create with three or four colors. Bringing back the shocks would make RTR for me and everyone else I have spoken to a complete success. Maybe we will get lucky and get a few other solid reprints. Here’s to hoping that RTR will blow our minds and flip Standard on its head [ed: blind-flip, even?!].
When I first went to Ravnica, I was much younger than today. I didn’t know what “Standard” was. I was surprised that I could sell these two lands I opened for $20 on the spot. And the guild theme gave me structure for deck building. I had a deck for each guild within about a month of the Prerelease. And now, looking back, I can see a lot more into the format and what made it good. I can see only good things coming from the Return to Ravnica.
Original Ravnica started out just like any normal set for me. There wasn’t a lot of hype surrounding it. People were just happy to not be drafting Kamigawa block anymore (which I personally loved). It was one of the first sets that I remember where you could draft mana-fixing high for the first 6 to 8 picks, then easily go 3-5 colors in your deck without it being an issue. Also, the guilds made it easy to understand the archetypes you were drafting and multicolor cards made it less likely that someone would dip into your color combination to steal some of your picks.
I remember the games being very grindy but fun. There was a lot of removal at common and uncommon so you didn’t see as many games being dominated by big flashy rares. Also it was the first time I remember where milling someone out was a legit strategy. If you got 2 or more Vedalken Entrancer in your deck and drafted some cards to help stall the board until the late game you could dominate with mill strategies. I loved everything about Ravnica, but probably the shock lands more than anything. My favorite card from Ravnica was definitely Dark Confidant. My hope for RTR is that they somehow capture what was so fun from the original block and use their combined knowledge of set crafting that they’ve gained over the years since to make it that much better.
So, I’m supposed to talk about how awesome the original Ravnica block was in only a paragraph or two? Talk about a challenge! Well, first let’s look at limited: Ravnica limited was coming off the heels of Kamigawa limited, which was an amazing, amazing format. However, Ravnica brought some new tricks to the table. The ability to draft 4-5 colours successfully was definitely a nice addition. However, probably my favourite thing about Ravnica draft, aside from how awesome it was in general, was how much each set changed the format. In triple Ravnica draft, Selesnya was the place to be. Between the guildmage and all the token generation (enabling turn 4 5/5 trampling Wurms using only commons), it was truly a force to be feared. However, by the time Dissension came out, Selesnya was the absolute last guild you wanted to be a part of. Between the variety in colours you could have in a single deck, variety of deck types available, and the dramatic changes each set brought to the table, Ravnica was possibly the limited format with the highest replay value.
Now let’s talk about constructed. Ravnica was coming off the heels of Mirrodin/Kamigawa Standard which was a terrible, terrible format. Kamigawa/Ravnica Standard was another great format, though it was about 90% Ravnica cards with a few Kamigawa cards thrown in as role players. It was also interesting to see armies of Sakura-Tribe Elders pulled from people’s decks in favour of previously garbage Core Set common Wood Elves and it’s ability to fetch dual lands into play untapped. The lands were a huge part of what made Ravnica Standard great, but cards like Glare of Subdual and Ghost Council of Orzhov were the real champions of the format. Unfortunately, when Time Spiral came around, those dual lands made the format much less fun. The incredible power of mana fixing combined with the high power level of both Ravnica and Time Spiral created a format with so much parity that you could shuffle almost any 60 cards together and have as good a chance as any other deck in the room. If the worst thing I can say about a set was that it was too good across all five colors evenly, however, then it’s no wonder Ravnica is the most popular block of all time.
“Just take the Shambling Shell.”
“What why?” I asked.
“It means every single card you draw for the rest of the game is a creature if you want it to be.”
“What about this thing?” I asked, pointing to Ribbons of Night.
My friend’s eyes lit up as he muttered some expletives.
“Yeah, take that.”
That was the beginning of my first Ravnica draft. My friends and I had taken our collective winnings from the Prerelease and tried to battle on the floor of someone’s bedroom. We had a bit of information overload after the sealed events. The cards felt so unique and half the cards seemed completely insane. Little did we know that despite every pack being filled with incredible interesting things, the best cards in the pack were often these weird lands that came into play tapped and bounced another land! This was the first time since my fond memories of Invasion as a middle-schooler that WotC had finally gotten it right.
When Ravnica first came out, I was a very, very casual player. I couldn’t understand how a land that dealt you two damage when it entered play could be worth $13. My friend built a GW Selesnya deck based around token creation with Flickerform and Bramble Elemental. I of course responded by adding Tunnel Vision and Reito Lantern to my Mono U Wizard deck. They were the first combo decks in our playgroup. Honestly, the card that I remember the most fondly is Tunnel Vision. But, since I have built my cube, I love so many of the cards from that block.
Ravnica: City of Guilds came out in the fall of 2005 right as I was beginning my second year of college. At the time it was released, I was knee deep in the game, playing standard each week at the now-defunct Your Move Games in Boston and drafting with friends as often as I could. Hype for the set was astounding, and I vividly remember all of the Dimir rares: Circu, Dimir Lobotomist, Glimpse the Unthinkable, Dimir Doppelganger, et. al. trading like gangbusters during the first couple months of the set’s run.
It’s hard to overstate just how excited people were about Ravnica. We had just come out of two straight blocks that were unpopular for various reasons. Mirrodin gave us Affinity and a two deck Standard metagame that drove many out of the game entirely. Even when Arcbound Ravager was banned, Standard still felt oppressive thanks to the dominance of Tooth and Nail. While I personally enjoyed Champions of Kamigawa, the block did little to shake up Standard and Saviors might be the actual worst set ever printed.
More than anything, Ravnica gave us options. Both Mirrodin and Kamigawa blocks were very linear in design. It felt like Wizards had basically built the decks they wanted to work in testing and made us play them. Want to play Standard in Mirrodin? Hope you like Affinity. Want to draft Kamigawa? Hope you like Splice and Soulshift.
The guild mechanics were more open than that. While Convoke required a bunch of tokens to be good, just jamming your deck full of Transmute cards (e.g.) didn’t necessarily help your deck any. For the first time in years, it felt as if we were handed a box of paints and a blank canvas instead of a connect-the-dots book. And the excitement was palpable.
Ravnica also made Magic feel much more personal. We all debated “what color are you?” long before Ravnica came out, but that question never produced a very interesting answer. Something like 95% of players just picked blue and that was the end of it. Once the guilds came out, it was far easier to find your own personal piece of the color pie. Beforehand, we only had a vague idea of what kind of philosophy a green/white mage might have. Now we knew.
It’s also interesting to see how I’ve changed in the seven years since Ravnica came out. Back then, I was an Izzet mage through-and-through. Now I feel aligned with the Simic. I’m not sure that means anything, but it’s interesting to think about.
Anticipation was also a huge part of Ravnica. Innistrad was great, but we all sort of knew that Dark Ascension would be more of the same. More Werewolves, more horror tropes, a new Planeswalker, and probably a couple new mechanics. When Ravnica came out, we were all left speculating on what the next set of guilds would be like. Who would Simic’s guild leader be? What would Izzet’s philosophy be? Would <insert favorite color combination here> be any good?
Lastly, the draft format for Ravnica was unlike anything that had come before. No one really figured out a way to make aggressive strategies work until very late in the season, so everyone played complex, clunky decks that used combat trickery and incremental card advantage to win. Two things really made the draft format sing, though:
The first was the sheer depth of each set. There were almost no unplayable cards in draft, and even today when I break out a retro draft I’ll see people do great things with cards that I never quite saw work before. There also weren’t a ton of bomb rares, and very few games ended with your opponent’s rare dragon causing you to rage quit.
The second was the amount of planning ahead you had to do, especially in full block draft. Not only did you have to consider the quality of a pick based on the other cards in your pile and the depth of the guild, but you had to had to plan for which guilds you hoped to go into in the second and third packs. No other draft format in history introduced this wrinkle quite so prominently as Ravnica.
The only downside to Ravnica draft is the steep learning curve. Drafting the set with people unfamiliar with the power of fixing and some of the more subtle bombs can lead to some serious blowouts. A Ravnica draft among people who know what they’re doing is still, in my opinion, the best possible form that Magic can take. I enjoy a good Ravnica draft more than any other limited or constructed format in the history of the game.
Ravnica has a ton of cards that I consider among my favorite in the game. Simic Sky Swallower and Momir Vig, Simic Visionary are certainly up there, as is Niv-Mizzet, Doubling Season, and Angel of Despair. Each guild seemed to get several cards that were both casual favorites and tournament playable, which was a great way to let people express themselves on the battlefield. I don’t think Standard was ever as open or fun as during this block.
My biggest hope for the new Ravnica is a draft environment that is deep, interesting, and skill-testing. I assume this environment will be faster than the first, if only because players are better now and will figure out the good aggressive strategies more quickly. But I’m hoping for something like the interactivity and splashiness of RGD or Rise of the Eldrazi. Otherwise, I’m just excited about a whole new batch of amazing cards to add to my collection!
Did you play in the original Ravnica: City of Guilds? What’s your fondest Ravnica memory? Do the spoilers make you worried or tingled? Share your story in the comments.
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