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