In my never ending quest to dig up some fun cards that I can use to spice up my next casual card game I turned my attention to my box of Return to Ravnica and rooted through to see if there was anything else that I could dig out. Return to Ravnica was a terrific set that will be known for a few things.
Return to Ravnica brought back the 10 guilds of the original Ravnica set which is immediately a fan favorite. This interesting new twist made the set rich and very flavourful as each of the guilds got their own mechanic to make them interesting. It also brought back the shocklands, which in my estimation, are the 2nd best set of dual lands printed. Obviously, the best set of dual lands is the original set with no drawbacks at all, but the shocklands are intriguing in their own right. The shocklands present the option of coming into play untapped at a cost and are quite skill intensive in order to balance the need for untapped land with taking damage from shocking yourself. The shocklands also have the two different land types in the description (island/ mountain etc.), just like the original dual lands, making them very appealing in other formats where having untapped land is paramount regardless of the cost. As a casual player I can fully appreciate why these lands are highly coveted and extremely useful and pick them up whenever I can. Return to Ravnica also introduced a whole swath of terrific cards like Jace, Architect of Thought, Sphinx’s Revelation, Supreme Verdict, and Loxodon Smiter. These cards have seen extensive play in Standard since their release and with good reason.
Now, I’d like to take a moment and dispel a notion. I’ve played at my fair share of drafts, sealed events, and the occasional constructed event at the local gaming shop. The usual players consistently talk to me like I haven’t got a clue what is going on and like I have no idea how to play. Just because I usually play casually doesn’t mean I don’t understand what is happening, or that I can’t identify what is the difference between a powerful card and a weaker card. I actually have a very good idea what the difference is and it isn’t that I choose not to run the powerful card…it’s that I can’t play with them because I don’t have them. Many casual players operate on a budget and picking up the high end, pricey cards isn’t feasible. In my case, I crack a relatively small number of packs each month…that’s it…and I have to play with whatever I find. So, while I would like to play with all the best cards, I am forced, out of necessity, to get the job done with other things.
So, while Return to Ravnica yielded some terrific cards that are run extensively in Standard, it had some quieter gems that I would encourage you to dig up and give them a try, if only to diversify your next casual encounter.
The first card s exactly what the player of a White “weenie” or a control/tempo deck wants to run. It is cheap, suitably aggressive, and plays into the strategy to tempo your opponent to slow them down. Who is this guy? Why it’s Azorius Arrester. This guy is a staple in White. He is clutch in the late game to remove the opponents’ best creature for a turn. He is key in the early game to get out in front of the race by clearing the road for early damage. He trades up to take out “Bears” quite favorably. He is just a useful and versatile 2 drop and a nice addition to the deck. My friends often choose to ignore this little guy, but I’ll run a full playset every time. He’s just a meat and potatoes type of creature that doesn’t get much love and is often passed over for flashier cards.
Another favorite of mine is in a very different colour. I rarely choose to play Black, but this common has helped me to feel more comfortable because it allows me to play a little more aggressively. Sewer Shambler is a 3 drop (1 black, 2 colourless) for a 2/1. This is hardly earth shattering and is in fact a little overpriced for what you get. However, the real beauty of this guy is the Scavenge ability on this card. When I saw the Scavenge ability I was intrigued. It made creatures in your graveyard very useful and potentially explosive sources of damage. Some of the Scavenge costs on some of the creatures in Return to Ravnica are really steep and provide very little benefit (i.e Drudge Beetle). However, the Sewer Shambler has a very reasonable cost of…exactly what you paid to bring it into play. So, for 3 you get to give another creature in play +2/+2 (Sewer Shambler’s power)…wait…isn’t Sewer Shambler a 2/1…so by scavenging this creature I get MORE than I would if I had the creature in play? Wow…um…ok! Thanks. So, this inexpensive common can do double duty in a deck as a) a creature to apply pressure, but more accurately to block and die and b) a reasonable costed pump spell to boost another creature you control once it is in your graveyard. This is very applicable and sometimes the difference between finishing off your opponent or giving him an extra turn to dig up an answer.
At the uncommon slot there are a lot of choices, but the one that I always like seeing turn up is Thoughtflare. This 5 mana draw spell (1 Blue, 1 red, and 3 colourless) makes my opponents chuckle because it seems so ridiculous, but every time I see it I’m always thankful it comes up. It’s a massive hit. Let me explain why. Invariably I get stuck where I’ve got 1 or 2 dead cards in my hand. They just aren’t helpful at this point of the game and are sitting there and I need answers! Divination is ok…but it’s a sorcery and can be slow and clunky. Opportunity draws me 4 cards, but that may put me into the situation where I’m at 8 or more cards and need to discard anyway…plus it’s 6 to cast instead of 5. Thoughtflare acts like Opportunity and the discard ability is not unlike that of Faithless Looting. So, Opportunity AND Faithless looting…for 5…at instant speed. Sounds good to me! It is even better if the cards you discard have flashback or can be recurred by some means (Archaeomancer, Auramancer) so that you still have access to them, making this a very valuable way to draw cards. So, all in all, drawing 4 cards off Thoughtflare and then discarding two is just fine by me most times. It digs me far enough that I can usually find something useful. It slims my hand down by making me discard a pair of cards I don’t need that I can usually get back if I’ve planned for this. It can be cast on my opponents turn at instant speed. It also makes me laugh because no one else ever thinks to run it. Try it out yourself and you’ll see what I mean.
There were some bomb cards at the Rare slot in Return to Ravnica, but one of them that never saw Standard play just screams Casual Card. Perhaps it speaks to a little bit of my personality, but nothing makes me happier than taking my opponents creatures and then beating my opponent with them. Grave Betrayal is a hefty 7 mana Black enchantment that whenever a creature your opponents control dies, the creature returns to the battlefield under your control AND gets a +1/+1 counter at the next end step. If I’m running Black I’m packing as much removal as I can find slots in my deck and this card is great. It is even better in a multiplayer game, because the wording on Grave Betrayal stipulates when a creature of ANY opponent dies I get control of it. That includes board wipes, spot removal, combat or another form of removal, and they come back bigger thanks to the +1/+1 counter. It basically means you have a pile of creatures from your opponents’ graveyards in front of you and get to smack your opponents with them. Priceless! This is a perfect casual card and can take a multiplayer game from boring to ridiculously funny!
By the time you get to the Mythic rare spot it is hard to actually pick something that is “underappreciated”. Most Mythics find a home somewhere, but the one that lends itself to the most silliness and fun combat choices is Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius. He’s hardly overlooked by players who know their stuff, but he never really found a deck in Standard and still hasn’t, which makes him a candidate to slide into some sort of casual build. His casting cost of 6 (2 blue, 2 Red, 2 colourless) can be a bit steep, but hey, I’m the guy playing 7 mana enchantments and 5 mana card draw instants…so 6 is totally in my wheel house. You get a 5/5 flying dragon, which is always cool. These stats are largely on par with the classic dragon, Shivan Dragon. However, the ability to draw cards and deal damage without combat that accompany Niv-Mizzet make him an awesome addition to a deck and a real menace. Evasion, range, good stats, card draw…this guy does it all and sadly makes Shivan Dragon look like a powder puff. So, really the only drawback is the 6 to cast him, but I an a world of 5 mana draw spells and 7 mana enchantments, this can work and make your game all the more enjoyable.
No article would be complete without a deck list highlighting how some of these pieces can go together into a casual deck. The one I’m showing here is for what my friends and I called “Hobo night” where we couldn’t play any rare cards. Common and uncommons were allowed from any set, but no rares at all. Yes, this is usually called “Peasant”, but we preferred “Hobo”.
U/B “Hobo deck”
This deck is premised on building your own hexproof, unblockable creature and then dropping your opponents to the floor as quick as possible. Many of the creature can’t be blocked already (Keymaster Rogue, Deathcult Rogue) and Elgaud Shieldmate soulbonded provides the hexproof. The other option is the Mask of Avacyn which is surprisingly useful. To speed up the clock on your unblockable creatures, the scavenge ability of the Sewer Shambler and Zanikev Locust can be used to boost the crunching power of your attackers. The other cards are mostly removal (murder, ultimate price, devour flesh etc) or cards that allow for deck manipulation. Brainstorm is an all-star, but Sage Aven is extremely useful, Diabolic Vision is extremely powerful for a mere 2 mana and Pilfered Plans is an improved Divination thanks to milling of your opponents’ deck. All in all, a fun, very inexpensive deck to put together that has lots of interesting lines of play and provides for lots of options.
So, next time you go to sit down and play a game with your friends at your next casual encounter, take a moment and look for a few little treats that you can do to liven up your playgroup, bring some fresh cards to the table, and take the evening from the usual, to the unusual. Once again, thanks for reading and enjoy your next Casual Encounter.