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Return To Ravnica Is Not Ravnica (My First Impressions/Review) September 21, 2012

Posted by James in : all, random, reviews, previews, design , trackback

I think we would have liked Return to Ravnica to be as much like the original Ravnica as possible but with new cards. Return To Ravnica is a lot like the original Ravnica. There’s hybrid cards, mana fixing, and several two-mana themes called “guilds.” However, I do have a major complaint and I think this is a good reason to think Return To Ravnica is inferior to the original — the mana fixing is significantly worse. First, I liked to have great mana fixing. Second, this might not be a problem when we draft a two color deck, but it could be a problem by the time we draft all three sets of the Return To Ravnica series together. Why? Because that will require us to generally play at least three colors.

The last time we had to draft three color decks was Shards of Alara — and the mana fixing in Shards of Alara wasn’t good enough. Shards of Alara had ten common mana fixing cards (fetch lands and obelisks) and they were terrible. You don’t want to be mana screwed until turn four but that’s the best the Obelisks could offer us. The fetch lands were also very slow and mana intensive.

Consider what Mark Rosewater said in his State of Design for 2009:

Hands down the biggest complaint I have about the design of Shards of Alara block was about mana issues. It is crucial that we give our audience the tools they need to enjoy the set’s themes. This flaw showed up most strongly in Limited (especially in Shards / Shards / Shards Sealed play) where we didn’t give enough color fixing to support the three-color play the set requires. Yes, this problem did lessen as the block progressed, but ideally we should have been in the right place to begin with. Latest Developments author Tom LaPille talked about some of the mana-fixing troubles in Shards of Alara here.

The good news is that we’ve learned from Shards of Alara and the next time we do a set with tough mana requirements, we’ll make sure to not repeat this problem.

Return to Ravnica has clearly inferior mana fixing than the original Ravnica. It is possible that they made the same mistake yet again. Let’s take a look at the mana fixing:

Invasion-style lands

Invasion-style lands are vanilla dual lands that enter the battlefield tapped. They are decent for draft, but they are strictly worse than the Shards of Alara tri-lands, significantly worse than Vivid Lands, and worse than the “bounce lands” in Ravnica.

Here’s what the lands we got for common mana fixing in Ravnica were like:

golgari rot farm

These lands come into play tapped, but they give you two mana. You can then play your other land that was returned to your hand later on. They can end up giving you more mana than usual. I think these are the best common dual-colored lands we’ve ever got.

Here’s what the new common mana fixing lands are like:

golgari guildmage

We’ve already seen lands exactly like these in Invasion. They are nothing new. Take Savage Lands and take away one of its abilities and you get this card.

savage lands golgari guildgate

Of course, we must admit that being “gates” is somewhat interesting. That is the attempt to make these lands at least marginally more interesting than Invasion lands. These lands are by far the best mana fixing you will usually get for limited events. I don’t think they are terrible. I think they are okay.

Artifact Mana

The artifact mana of the set can be turned into creatures for a couple of mana, but they aren’t that great. They cost three mana, which means they aren’t going to help you get the mana fixing you need until turn four. You could pretty much lose the game by that point to the oncoming army.

We got common mana fixing in Ravnica like the following:

golgari signet

Golgari Signet is perhaps the best common artifact mana fixing we’ve ever seen and it’s approximately as good as the Talismans from Mirrodin.

What do we get now? We get uncommon Keyrunes. For example:

golgari keyrune

I’m not impressed that it can become a creature. I would rather just get a creature for the same cost that doesn’t require an activation cost. And using Keyrunes as mana fixing is like using a ruined Obelisk:

oblisk of jund

I never wanted to play an Obelisk in a single game of Magic. By the time you use them as mana fixing it’s already turn four and you’ll probably be attacked to death.

What about the shock lands? Yes, those are great. However, they are rare and we can’t rely on getting them during a draft or sealed event.

What We Should Have Got

First, we could have got the exact same mana fixing that we got last time. Second, I don’t mind the Invasion-style lands so much. It is okay. However, I want a real replacement for the Signets. We could have got Talismans or some two-mana cost mana fixing artifacts that enter the battlefield tapped.


Ravnica was one of the most popular Magic sets and for good reason. It is possibly the best Magic set ever made — at least in terms of design and draft quality. Return to Ravnica is now one of the most hyped magic sets ever made. I think it will be a decent set for the most part, but it is not as good as Ravnica. That is because we originally had the best common mana fixing we’ve ever seen, but Return To Ravnica’s mana fixing is a lot worse.

Finally, it could end up problems with mana fixing similar to Shards of Alara as soon as we try to draft Return to Ravnica with Gatecrash and the final set of the series. Perhaps the final set of the series will have a lot better mana fixing. If so, we will have to make sure to grab as much mana fixing in the first pack of draft, which is not necessarily a fun thing thing to do. My understanding is that we will not draft Return to Ravnica with Gatecrash, so we won’t have mana problems in that scenario.

(Update 9/23/2012): I clarified how Return to Ravnica might end up with mana problems in the future. I found out that it will not be drafted with Gatecrash until the final set of the series is released. I am worried that the mana fixing will be less good than we need to make three color decks, but the final set will probably have a lot of mana fixing in it.



1. Michael - September 22, 2012

comparison of a gate to a shard land is unfair as they are different rarities.

Same thing with the obelisk to the keyrune. Apparently turning into a creature is enough to bump it to uncommon.

The majority of mana fixing is going to be guild related anyway, so those 3 color things are again not going to be fair.

Comparing the Gate to the Bounce land is fair. Bounce lands were considered too powerful since they let you cheat on mana and play 4-5 color good stuff.

Now, you did miss some color fixing.
Transguild Promenade enters the battlefield tapped.
When Transguild Promenade enters the battlefield, sacrifice it unless you pay 1.
{T}: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.

There is also the rare Chromatic Lantern {3}
Lands you control have “{T}: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.”
{T}: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.

2. James - September 22, 2012

The Lantern does not count because it’s a rare. I think Transguild Promenade is okay.

I don’t think comparing it to Shards tri-lands is unfair because the mana fixing in Shards has a higher quality than this one — tri-lands are better. Shards has tri-lands. Therefore, Shards has superior individual mana fixing cards. That’s a point worth making.

Moreover, comparing these artifacts to Obelisks is completely fair. If you use them as mana fixing, then they are worse than Obelisks. Just like I said above.

3. Michael - September 22, 2012

Transguild Promenade is really just a reprint of Rupture Spire. It appeared in Conflux. So as rarities for mana fixing go, you have 6/5/6. In Shards in was 10/5/0. RtR has +2 on mana fixing and is “intended” for 2 color play (like that will happen in draft) so it is better than Shards in that respect where you had to play 3 colors or die.
As the block pans out, there will be more gates and runestones (perhaps that is how the second set got it’s name…What is behind the Gates?) It will make dual guild drafting easier. Don’t know if they have more bonus mana fixing or not. I am sure that the 3rd set will have something since there are 10 guilds in it (probably working together to repel whatever crashed through the gates.)

4. James - September 22, 2012

That’s why I said drafting just Return to Ravnica will probably be OK. You can just play two colors if you want. The problem is when the other packs are introduced.

I wonder how many people will play Gatecrash by itself. It will be a big set just like this one. We have no more reason to want to play this one alone than Gatecrash.

I suppose we might never draft the two major sets together and Gatecrash can be full of mana fixing as well.

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