Magic: The Gathering - How Return to Ravnica Made a Great Block Even Better
Louis Kemner
jace niv mizzet mtg
jace niv mizzet mtg
Magic: The Gathering is made up of many three-set blocks and a few two-set blocks that explore a wide variety of planes across the Multiverse, from the sunny realm of Lorwyn to the all-metal world of Mirrodin or the desert sands of Amonkhet. What about Ravnica, a plane-wide city of guilds and intrigue?
The first block to visit that world, Ravnica: City of Guilds, was a smashing success. It featured an exciting multicolored theme, ten new gameplay mechanics, many legendary creatures, and a new standard for creating factions in the lore and game alike. How did the successor, the Return to Ravnica block, build upon its legendary predecessor?

The New Mechanics & Strategies of Ravnica

izzet staticaster mtg
izzet staticaster mtg
The Return to Ravnica block, released from 2012 to 2013, aimed to improve what made the original Ravnica block so popular, rather than reinvent the wheel entirely. A good place to start were the ten mechanics of the original block, which were definitely hit and miss in hindsight. For example, Wizards made sure to fix the Golgari Swarm guild, which once had the notoriously overpowered Dredge mechanics (now widely used in Modern Dredge decks). No way would Wizards bring Dredge back, so RTR's Golgari guild had the Scavenge ability, to exile creatures from the graveyard and put +1/+1 counters on creatures on the board. Scavenge hasn't impacted the game as a whole very much, but at least it didn't warp the RTR block.
The Orzhov Syndicate guild also got an upgrade, ditching its awkward Haunt ability for the elegant Extort ability. Casting spells and paying extra white or black mana meant draining life points from the opponent, representing how the Orzhov are scheming bureaucrats and loan sharks who bleed everyone dry. Extort was nice and simple, and quite flavorful. In addition, the Boros Legion guild got an upgrade, swapping out its clunky Radiance ability for the Battalion effect. If three or more creatures attack together, then all creatures with the Battalion ability will receive bonuses, such as gaining flying, power and toughness boosts, or even indestructibility or preventing damage. Many fans will agree that Battalion is a far better weapon of war than Radiance was.
The House Dimir guild actually got a downgrade. In the original Ravnica block, the Dimir guild had the Transmute ability to swap cards in the hand for cards in the library of the same converted mana cost or value. Now, the Dimir has the Cipher ability, appearing on over-costed sorcery cards that can be encoded onto creatures. Those Cipher cards can be cast again for free when the creature deals damage to a player, but the end result was just a collection of costly sorcery spells that failed to generate any meaningful value.

The New Twists & Tricks of Return to Ravnica

simic 2
simic 2
In many ways, the Return to Ravnica block aimed to imitate and improve upon what the original block did, from hybrid mana to shocklands to guild leaders and even a mega-cycle of guildmages with two abilities each. But this new block wasn't just a "greatest hits" compilation. It had some new ideas of its own. For example, the Return to Ravnica block introduced the Gate land type, usually appearing on two-color lands that entered the battlefield tapped. They were all commons, and there was one for each guild, from Rakdos Guildgate to Simic Guildgate.
The Gate card type wasn't just for show. A handful of creatures and spells could actually get stronger if the player had enough Gate lands on the battlefield, or even if they tutored up some Gates and put them onto the battlefield as a form of color fixing. Most notably, the block's final set, Dragon's Maze, had a mythic rare card name Maze's End that cared a great deal about Gates. If the player has all ten guilds' Gates on the battlefield, they win the game.
The Return to Ravnica block also made good use of split cards, or two tiny cards side by side on a single, regular card. Such cards have existed since the pre-Modern era, but the Return to Ravnica block put a new twist on them. A handful of split cards appeared in the Dragon's Maze set in particular, with several being uncommon and a few being rare, and all ten guilds were evenly represented. Most importantly, all of these split cards had the Fuse ability, meaning the player could cast both mini-cards if they can pay enough mana for them.
Often, these split cards combine for a greater effect, and the Izzet card, Turn//Burn, is a great example. The Turn card is blue and can change a target creature into a 0/1 blue Weird with no abilities, and Burn deals 2 damage to a target. So, the player can cast this with Fuse to change a powerful enemy creature into a hapless 0/1, then immediately destroy it with the Burn half. During that Standard era, Turn//Burn was a solid option against the Orzhov card Blood Baron of Vizkopa, which was notoriously difficult to kill. During that Standard, Turn//Burn could also destroy Master of Waves, which ordinarily had protection from red. Turn made sure that protection from red was long gone by the time Burn took effect.