The Return to Ravnica, Reprise Part IIb

Ravnica has hit the stores last Friday, and from my own experience at the prerelease the set provides a great limited format. Usually, that’s good news for us Battle Boxers.

I’m a bit late to the party with this review, and while it’s tempting to blame my busy work and family life (which I do have), the truth is I’ve been totally hooked on Arena. I signed up for the open beta and have basically been drafting Magic 2019 for a week straight. It’s been fun, and while I think the Arena team still has a lot of fine tuning to do, it’s clear that this is the future of Magic. Or at least one of its futures.

I hope that the future will include some of the more casual formats being supported on Arena. Until that time, we’ll just have to make do with cardboard and dice. (And everything nice).

Ravnica again?

Although it probably just means I’m getting old, it feels like we’ve just been to Ravnica. I do get both the commercial incentive and the comfort a well known environment gives to players, and Ravnica’s guilds clearly give an almost endless depth of gameplay variations. But there’s still a part of me that feels Wizards is being kind of lazy with its exploration of the Multiverse. I once tweeted to Mark Rosewater about this, and he said that they visit new worlds and “nostalgic” worlds in approximately equal measures. And with the last six worlds being Ravnica, Dominaria, Ixalan, Amonket, Kaladesh and Innistrad, I guess that holds true. Perhaps it’s visiting the same world for the third time that’s bothering me. And the fact that unlike Mirrodin or Innistrad, Ravnica doesn’t change much over time making it feel like more of the same. This means it’s a great plane for gameplay, but a mediocre plane at best for storytelling.

Anyway, what do we care, on this website it’s the gameplay we’re concerned about. And we get good gameplay in spades with Wizards’ latest set. So let’s dig in!

The guilds

This time, we get to revisit 5 guilds (the next set will bring us the other 5), and I was pleasantly surprised to find that all the guilds have mechanics that are playable or better in Battle Box. The only slightly parasitic mechanic is the Golgari mechanic Undergrowth, but even that will work without specific support. Let’s examine each guild a little more closely.

Dimir

The guild I played at the prerelease (I got ~10 removal spells in my sealed pool and went on to a 3-1 record). Surveil is a nice twist on scry, as making the cards go to your graveyard is an advantage over putting them on the bottom of the library. I don’t think the mechanic itself will be big in Battle Box, but the dimir guild has some nice cards to offer us regardless. If you do intend to include surveil cards, I would try to include instants or activated abilities. This gives your players the opportunity to manipulate their own draw step, rather than their opponent’s.

Golgari

Similar to Dimir, the Golgari have a slightly meh guild mechanic for Battle Box. There’s nothing wrong with undergrowth, but it will generally be underpowered unless your Battle Box has a strong graveyard focus. But again, Golgari has some nice cards to offer us irrespective of its guild mechanic.

Boros

I haven’t really played that much with Boros yet, but I’ve played against it a few times. It’s clear that mentor is a more powerful ability than it seems at first sight. It does present a challenge to curve out just right, but challenges like that are a nice feature for a Battle Box mechanic. I think mentor will play nicely in most Boxes, even if you only include a few cards. A Battle Box home run.

Selesnya

The only guild that uses an old mechanic, but it is another great Battle Box mechanic. Most Boxes are heavy on creatures and convoke abuses that fact nicely. And like mentor, it doesn’t really matter if your Box contains one convoke card or twenty. The hallmark of a great Battle Box mechanic.

Izzet

Lastly, the Izzet league. Jump-start is a variation on the popular retrace mechanic. It allows meaningful choices during the game and it’s not uncommon that you have some cards in your hand you’ll be happy to discard for a nice jump-start effect. It is a very incremental mechanic, so I wouldn’t include too many Jump-start cards in high powered Boxes such as the Commander Box. I think the mechanic will shine most in more grindy two player Boxes. Another hit!

It’s clear that Guilds of Ravnica has many great Battle Box cards to offer. And with so many of its mechanics being great Battle Box mechanics, it will also make for a great Mini Battle Box. I promise I’ll get on that this weekend, and I hope I can share a list with you at the beginning of next week.

The Top 20

As usual, I’ll end my article with what I consider to be the best Battle Box cards in the set. But as I said, Guilds of Ravnica is a deep set, so I urge you to do some digging of your own.

20. Assure / Assemble
Both modes are fine but not overwhelming. The reason this makes the top 20 is that both modes are instants. And although leaving up 6 mana will inspire some cautious play, being able to drum up three surprise knights should make a real impact.

19. Emmara, Soul of the Accord
I don’t think she is powerful enough to be a Commander in the Commander Box. But she is reasonably efficient, and can bring some extra bodies to the table if you draw her early. Works best in Boxes with a good amount of evasion enablers.

18. Cosmotronic Wave
A serviceable common that helps break up stalemated boards. It can feel a little unfair to have to let your opponent’s entire team go through unblocked, so it’s worth it to look at alternatives like Crash Through. That’s a matter of taste though, and the Wave is certainly better at pushing long games to a conclusion.

17. Integrity / Intervention
Another pair of instants that are fine if not overwhelming. In a sense, as long as cards are versatile, “fine but not overwhelming” is a sort of sweet spot for Battle Box. Part combat trick, part removal, part lifegain, I think this could have a place in many Boxes.

16. Plaguecrafter
A slight upgrade over cards like Fleshbag Marauder, because it can target Planeswalkers and has an extra point of toughness. It’s also still marginally playable on an empty board. If your Box still has the Marauder or a similar card, I would consider upgrading it.

15. Quasiduplicate
I’m not sure I’m a fan of the cutesy way the Izzet cards have been named (looking at you, Hypothesizzle), but the effect is decent enough. It’s a pity you can’t copy your opponents’ creatures but then 3 mana is relatively cheap for the effect. Being able to do it again is also nice. Works especially well in Boxes with many ETB triggers.

14. Beast Whisperer
I’m always wary not to put too much card draw into my Boxes. On the other hand, this is not cheap and it will likely only start drawing you cards a turn later. Because it isn’t hard to remove, I think this is exactly the sort of card draw that’s great for Battle Boxes.

13. Find / Finality
Another split card. It is no accident that many of these split cards make this list. They offer versatility and can often be relevant both in the early and in the late game. This is more a late game card, but it does pack some power.

12. Pelt Collector
I think this is a card we’ll see a lot of at the Standard and Modern tables. It’s very efficient and rewards good curving, and historically such cards have been popular. Because Battle Box is a singleton format and you’re more likely to draw this later into the game, it doesn’t get past #12 on this list. Good, but not great.

11. Etrata, the Silencer
I had my doubts of including this on this list. Obviously, in normal Battle Boxes this is no good because of the shuffle clause. But in a Commander Box, I think this is a fun Commander. It brings excitement to the table. But because it will cost more and more to cast each turn, it will not be too good either. Perhaps its biggest power is the ability to exile a creature every time it attacks.

10. Deafening Clarion
I can’t imagine a situation where you don’t want to give your team lifelink, but I guess you will sometimes just want to cast this to gain some (or a lot of) extra life. Aside from that, dealing 3 damage is a nice mass removal effect because it requires smart play and good timing. A fine card.

9. Legion Warboss
The obvious comparison here is Goblin Rabblemaster, and on balance I think the Warboss is an improvement. It doesn’t grow itself but it can grow other attackers, but most importantly it will generate a token without venturing into the red zone (or forcing your other goblins to do so). Of course the token still has to attack, but depending on the board state, that can still be quite useful.

8. Underrealm Lich
This improves your card draw by a lot, and to be honest I am unsure whether that will prove to be too powerful. The fact that you can protect the Lich by paying life only adds to my doubt. Still, I think the card is interesting enough to try out.

7. Swiftblade Vindicator
On its own, this is certainly not overwhelming. But it does present a nice dream of boosting it to 4 or 5 power and then crashing in. I would only include this if your Box has a decent amount of equipment.

6. Ochran Assassin
This is an innocuous little card but it does a lot of things. It’s a good blocker, as all small deathtouch creatures are. But unlike them, this can also be a great attacker. Not only will you likely clear up one of your opponent’s creatures, you will also clear the way for you other creatures to get through. I like it a lot.

5. Midnight Reaper
Allowing you to get some value out of your dying creatures while having a reasonable body makes this a good, playable card. And in Battle Box, it is unlikely that you’ll be able to set up some kind of sacrifice engine with Gravecrawler .

4. Chance for Glory
A scary and exciting card. It gives your creatures indestructible permanently, and allows you to throw them at your opponent twice in a row. But if somehow your opponent manages to survive that, you’ve lost. I wonder if something like +2/+2 and trample wouldn’t have been more fun than indestructible, but it is what it is.

3. Charnel Troll
It’s big for its price, but will only be useful if you have creature cards in your graveyard. Luckily, it can provide said creatures on its own, growing himself every time. Because you often have more cards in your hand than you can play in Battle Box, it is not unlikely for this to stick around for a few turns and cause some serious headaches.

2. Goblin Cratermaker
I always like to put an unexciting utility card near the top of these lists. I do that to make a simple point. The best Battle Box experience is not gotten by cards with modern constructed power levels, but rather by cards that allow you to be smart. The Cratermaker is reasonably efficient, and can deal with a lot of threats. It’s not overpowered but will rarely be useless. A Battle Box sweet spot.

1. Chamber Sentry
The reason I put this card at #1 is that I like the durdliness of all its abilities, but I can’t think of a single format where I’d want to play this. If I am building a five color Commander deck, this would almost certainly not be powerful enough to include. The only format where I think this will work is Battle Box. It’s easy to get to 5 colors, and a 5/5 for 5 is a fine power level. The built-in removal will be relevant but durdly enough to not be oppressive, and having to spend 5 mana to get it back into your hand isn’t game breaking either. As a card, it will probably not be as good as the other top 3 cards, but I want to give the guy a chance to see play somewhere.

Like last time, I’ll leave you with the cards I have personally decided to include in my boxes:

Battle Box:

Chamber Sentry
Chance for Glory
Charnel Troll
Integrity / Intervention
Legion Warboss

Commander Box:

Citywide Bust
Doom Whisperer
Etrata, the Silencer (Commander pool)
Midnight Reaper
Ochran Assassin
Trostani Discordant (Commander pool)
Underrealm Lich
Vraska, Golgari Queen

That’s it for today. Have fun and keep a lookout to the site for the Guilds Mini Battle Box.