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Sunday, September 2, 2012

How It Seems Return to Ravnica Pre-Release Will Work

With all the information from last night about Shocklands and new previews, what got glossed over was how the Pre-Release will work for Return to Ravnica.

From the start, we were told of "Guild Packs" that will serve as the 6th pack of a Sealed Deck Pre-Release. It was assumed from the chatter that you would pick one of the 5 Return to Ravnica guilds and, along with your 5 normal packs of Return to Ravncia, you'd get 1 "Guild Pack" of 15 cards: 14 cards exclusively in the  colors of the Guild you chose plus a Pre-Release promo tied to that Guild.

However, last night we not only got the Pre-Release promos for the set spoiled but also the way these packs will actually work.

First, let's see how the Pre-Release will work.

(Details are from http://www.wizards.com/Magic/TCG/Events.aspx?x=mtgcom/events/prerelease-facts)

When you go to the Pre-Release, you'll choose 1 of the 5 Return to Ravnica Guilds:

  • Azorius (White/Blue)
  • Izzet (Blue/Red)
  • Rakdos (Red/Black)
  • Golgari (Black/Green)
  • Selesnya (Green/White)

You will receive a collection of stuff called a "Guild Prerelease Pack". It contains the following:

  • 5 normal Return to Ravnica boosters.
  • 1 14-card Guild-specific pack
    • These 14 cards that fit your Guild's colors (mono-color cards could be included, but they will fit your Guild's colors. Also, I assume nothing with even a loose affiliation with another Guild would be included)
  • 1 Prerelease card specific to your Guild.
  • 1 Spindown Life Counter (I would assume "20" is the Guild symbol of your chosen Guild)
  • 1 Achievment Card (probably similar to the last few Pre-Releases)
  • 1 Guild Symbol Sticker
  • 1 Letter from your chosen Guild's Guildmaster

That's not too shabby, is it? :) As usual, it's a Sealed Deck tournament, meaning you build your deck from the 6 packs you get plus any Basic Lands you need (usually provided by the tournament venue).

Why don't we look at the Pre-Release cards now? Perhaps what they do is important to what you'll pick for the Pre-Release (and it gives me a good excuse to post a few Spoilers this afternoon. ;)  )

(NOTE: All images from Wizards of the Coast's Return to Ravnica Card Image Gallery and may or may not be the artwork used for the Pre-Release promo versions)


If you're reading and going "Wait...the reminder text sounds familiar." Well...that's because it's normally been on cards. Look at Arrest (oddly enough, from the block Return to Ravnica will replace in about a month!):

From  http://magiccards.info/som/en/2.html

So this also gives me a good excuse to preview Azorius' new keyword, Detain.

When a creature with Detain gets to use its Detain ability, it allows that player to choose a certain number of opponent's nonland permanents (it'll be specific how many in the text) and keeps that/those permanent(s) from doing 3 things:

  • No attacking.
  • No blocking.
  • No activating their activated abilities (Anything with a colon [:] before the actual effect is an activated ability)
The effect usually lasts for a turn, so it's kind of like getting a Frost Titan effect when the Detain trigger happens.

Detain's trigger isn't the same for every creature. For Archon of the Triumverate, it's on attacking. For Lyev Skyknight, though, (another preview card from the Card Image Gallery), it's when he enters the battlefield.


So we have a 4/4 Flying Haste dragon for 5 mana. Not bad as-is. But this lets you cast Sorceries as if they were Instants! Imagine being able to cast Past in Flames on your opponent's turn to set up a win on your very next turn, or casting Reforge the Soul to refill your hand while your opponent can't use what he drew because he didn't think to keep some lands untapped to gain mana from them.

Though I'm sure some pro will be much more sinister than I with their plans. ;)


Yesterday one of our player's reactions to "Unleash" was one word: "Lame." Why? It was on a 1/1 creature.

AHem...perhaps to explain Unleash. It's a pretty simple mechanic really. You can bring the creature onto the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter on it. As long as it has a +1/+1 counter on it, though, it can't block. Yes, you're basically forcing your Unleash creature to focus on attacking only.

So why would you ever do this? Look at Carnival Hellsteed.

For 6 mana, he's a 5/4 with First Strike and Haste. 5 power with First Strike is very helpful, but what if you're not focused on defense? What if your opponent has an empty field and you can hold off any other creature threat he's got?

Give the Hellsteed a +1/+1 counter and let it attack for 6 each turn, duh! And if your opponent happens to get something out to block, then Hellsteed will just First Strike it to death with 6 power vs. what will most likely be a relatively smaller-toughness creature.

It's important to note, though, that if you do give an Unleash creature a +1/+1 counter FOR ANY REASON, it will not be able to block. This might be where you'd favor casting a Blessings of Nature and giving an Unleash creature a +1/+1 counter. This way, if you have a big creature you didn't want stopped, it won't be a problem now. (Of course, you'll then have to deal with a stronger creature next turn, so be careful about doing that!)


So perhaps we won't get Doubling Season reprinted, but honestly we've got half the card in Innistrad's Parallel Lives. This gives us, for the most part, the other half of Doubling Season.

If any creatures you control would get any +1/+1 counters, double them up! Hmm...Blessings of Nature looks better and better now, eh? lol!

Well, think of it this way...working with Unleash you get a creature in with 2 +1/+1 counters instead of 1. If you use it against Unleash (as I was talking about just a couple paragraphs above), your Unleash target only gets 1 +1/+1 counter while, in total, your other creatures would get 6 total +1/+1s! (Either 1 creature gets 6, or 1 gets 4 while another gets 2, or each gets 2, etc.)

I imagine with Shocklands being back we'll see Rakdos and Golgari team up in this fashion. Or perhaps it could just be a Golgari beatdown deck using effects that gives +1/+1 counters...including Scavenge! Or because of Shocklands, why limit ourselves? When Gatecrash comes out, we'll have Breeding Pool so we could go with Inivisible Stalker Counters (using Scavenge and the 1- or 2-of Blessings of Nature to make 1 huge Invisible Stalker that's difficult to handle.)

This is a potentially Standard-playable card, but I feel it'll find a lot more favor at the casual table as 4-toughness creatures aren't as easy to handle in and of themselves.


Okay...so I'll be honest. This feels like a kick to Selesnya. Every other color gets a decent creature while Grove of the Guardian gets a land?

Perhaps it's not as bad as it looks. Remember, Selesnya's new keyword is Populate, which lets you make copies of tokens. It's plausible that this effectively reads as:

4GW (remember, you have to tap Grove of the Guardian itself, so that's like using the mana from itself)
As an additional cost to cast this creature, tap two untapped creatures you control.

So from that perspective, perhaps it's not too bad. And if there are cards that can get lands back, even if it's just 1 or 2, that'll possibly net you two of these guys. Unfortunately, we don't know of any yet so I have to judge off a 1-time activation.

An 8/8 is scary! Add to that it can attack and block with no problems and this can be a menace.

But what I'm also seeing is what's termed "power creep" in creatures. No longer is a 3-mana creature a 2/2 with a decent ability. It's usually a 3/3 with a keyword or 5/4 with nothing else. This increases the chances your 8/8 could be killed on it attacking. Add to it that we have 2 guilds with Red and 2 with Black and there can be some decent damage or toughness-lowering abilities that ends up killing this humongous 8/8 before it actually deals a ton of damage.

If it had Trample as well (that way White would be Vigilance and Green would be Trample, making it a White/Green creature), I'd be more willing to try it. As it stands now, though, I'd like to see more of the set before passing judgment.

As a Legacy and Modern note, though, remember that Green has Life from the Loam and can use Crucible of Worlds so perhaps there it might make a better casual card for playgroups that play those formats but don't use tournament decks.

I hope you enjoyed the run through the Pre-Release promos! Hopefully over the next few days I can get more previews posted for you. Until then, take care and enjoy Return to Ravnica preview season!

Shocklands: Confirmation! And Some History and Rules

Today is a good news day if you've been playing Magic since at least Ravnica: City of Guilds block.

There was speculation based on art and very artful dodging of questions about the matter, but at tonight's PAX Prime MTG Party, there was no question.





From  https://twitter.com/mtgcolorpie/status/242083449048006657

Yes, sir! The original Ravnica: City of Guilds block "Shocklands" are back in Standard for 2 years! Woot!

*crickets chirp*

*they keep chirping*


*No more chirping*

Okay, okay...so you're fairly new to the game and you're wondering "So...what's the big deal?"

Let me tell you a story...a story of the original "Dual Lands"...

When Magic: The Gathering's first set (now named Alpha) first came out, there was a "cycle" of 10 lands called "Dual Lands."

From  http://magiccards.info/al/en/278.html
These were non-basic lands that had basic land types. In Bayou's case, it's Forest and Swamp. While it *was* part of the effect, it later got errata'd to always have those land types (so the type line would read "Land- Forest Swamp").

These cards are so good for a single reason: they do have the basic land types.

"So they're basic lands!...Right?"

Oh, if it were that simple! You can have unlimited numbers of Basic Lands in your deck. But there are only 5 cards (constantly reprinted) that are Basic Lands. They are named Plains, Island, Swamp, Mountain, and Forest. They also have the type line read "Basic Land - Plains" or "Basic Land - Island", for example. So these original Dual Lands were, later in the game's history and like most other cards since, limited to 4 copies in a deck.

No, having basic land types made them easily searchable! Look at Farseek (recently reprinted in Magic 2013 Core Set):

From  http://magiccards.info/m13/en/170.html
Look at the wording..."a Plains, Island, Swamp or Mountain." It doesn't say a basic Plains, Island, Swamp, or Mountain. So let's look at Bayou.

If you wanted to search for Bayou, you could search for a Swamp, go get Bayou, and put it onto the battlefield tapped. Not too shabby!

So when Ravnica: City of Guilds came out, we got the first preview of the "new Duals", called collectively as "Shocklands".

From A Special Ravnica Preview, August 18 2005
These are closer to "true Duals", a re-creation of the original Alpha/Beta/Unlimited/Revised Bayou-type duals that have 2 basic land types in their typeline. But by this time, the "Reserved List" had been put in to prevent reprinting of old Rares (for the most part). So this was the fix.

Why are they called "Shocklands", though? Unlike the "true Duals", these lands had a clause universal to all 10:
"As [card name] enters the battlefield, you may pay 2 life. If you don't, [card name] enters the battlefield tapped instead."

So basically, you were doing a self-Shock just to get to use the land the same turn you played it.

"Soooo not worth it!", some claim. "2 life to get to use it?"

Yep...but look at cards like Wild Nacatl (HINT: Shocklands seemed to be the reason it was banned in Modern):

From  http://magiccards.info/ddh/en/4.html
Now look at Temple Garden again:

New art in Return to Ravnica. From Return to Ravnica card image gallery.

So you pay 2 life on turn 1, right? Then pay G for Wild Nacatl. Congrats! You now have a 3/3 creature! Temple Garden is a Forest, so that's +1/+1 to Nacatl's 1/1. Then, it's also a Plains, so Wild Nacatl goes from 2/2 to 3/3. Feel powerful that you have a Turn 1 3/3. That's not easy to accomplish, no matter what generation of cards you were looking at. (EDIT: Or what could also usually happen in Modern was Turn 1 Stomping Ground to cast Nacatl [now 2/2 because you have a Forest], then Turn 2 you play a Temple Garden or Sacred Foundry to have a Plains and make him 3/3. Either way, you have a 3/3 creature attacking on Turn 2 of the game while the opponent probably has a 1/1 or 2/2 if they're not playing the same deck.)

So back to the history of these...so you notice how generic the names are? "Stomping Ground", "Temple Garden", "Watery Grave" (for Blue/Black), etc. The intent was indeed to make them re-printable in non-Ravnica-themed sets. (REFERENCE: http://www.wizards.com/magic/magazine/Article.aspx?x=mtgcom/daily/db47)

So what happened? At one time "Painlands" (you tap for 1 colorless mana OR you tap to get 1 of 2 colors of mana for a 1-life payment) were the go-to lands for Core Sets. It was speculated these "Shocklands" would replace them.

Instead, we got 5 lands like Glacial Fortress (with the entire 10-card cycle finally finished out in Innistrad):

From  http://magiccards.info/m13/en/225.html

Why did we not get Shocklands? Well, it seems players were not looking at the "Painlands" and seeing the power of paying life for mana. It wasn't "obvious" why advanced players were willing to give up life to get one of 2 colors of mana off their land. So this was the response (SOURCE: http://www.wizards.com/magic/magazine/article.aspx?x=mtg/daily/feature/45)

So we figured "Okay...goodbye Shocklands! We'll see you in Legacy...NOT!" Well, along came a format called "Modern", which basically said any card in an Expansion from around 2003 onward (Mirrodin block and 8th Edition start the run for Expansions and Core Sets, respectively) was legal (save for a ban list). So what happens when you combine a new format with lands that eerily simulate the "real Duals" that are widely used in Legacy?


At some point (and I can't remember when, so I apologize), WotC said it was their plan to reprint certain Modern cards where they were more easily available to the masses. Combine this with the fact that the "Shocklands" had generic names and it meant that any Core Set from the onset of Modern forward could have had the "Shocklands". But that one paragraph about players not liking to pay life for lands kept ringing in our heads.

...Until today. With Return to Ravnica being an Expansion set, I feel Wizards of the Coast felt it was safe to reprint the Shocklands here.

1) Players who pick up Return to Ravnica are partially doing so for nostalgia's sake. They remember the Shocklands so it's a familiar thing to them to pick more up, or some perhaps for the first time as they couldn't get their hands on them before.

2) As an Expansion, it's naturally geared toward higher-level playing players than complete "noobies", for lack of a better word.

3) Perhaps they felt with the popularity of the Zendikar fetch lands (which finished out a 5-card cycle from Onslaught with the other 5 color pairs) it was safer to allow players to pay life for their lands as more saw the benefit of doing such just a few years ago.

For whatever reason, I am very glad WotC has reprinted the "Shocklands." I'm sure many veterans from that era are more than happy to dust off their old "new Duals", plop down some Farseeks or Gem of Becomings to help fetch them out, and let the multicolored goodness fly much more easily. And for newer players? The Shocklands here have an advantage the older ones didn't: Magic is played much more frequently, and therefore bought more frequently, than it was in the past. Add to that regular Rares are easier to get thanks to the introduction of Mythic Rare in Shards of Alara in roughly 2007 and we should see a lowering in Shockland prices. This means your dollar could buy more "new Duals" that function very closely to the "old Duals" of days gone by. :)

SO NOW...which ones will be legal when?

RETURN TO RAVNICA (releases October 5, 2012*)
Hallowed Fountain (Azorius)
Steam Vents (Izzet)
Blood Crypt (Rakdos)
Overgrown Tomb (Golgari) (previewed at very top)
Temple Garden (Selesnya)

GATECRASH (releases February 1, 2013)
Godless Shrine (Orzhov)
Watery Grave (Dimir)
Breeding Pool (Simic)
Stomping Ground (Gruul)
Sacred Foundry (Boros)

So yes, there is nearly a 4-month wait until you can use the other 5 lands. But once February 1st of next year comes up, enjoy having both the Shocklands and Magic 2010/Innistrad duals legal at the same time until October 2013. :)

(PS: Yes, cards like Glacial Fortress or Isolated Chapel will look at the land types on the Shocklands to determine if they can enter the battlefield untapped. Source: http://gatherer.wizards.com/pages/card/Details.aspx?multiverseid=221919 and scroll down just a bit to the rulings)