Welcome back to another Crack a Pack. This week I have a special treat for everyone that will take us in the “Way back” time machine to almost 2 years ago. Hard to believe. Last week I promised that I would bust open a pack from Return to Ravnica block, and true to my word, I picked up a pack of Return to Ravnica and will crack it open and see what we find. Now, I admit, when I returned to playing Magic after a lengthy period of time off, I wasn’t exactly fond of the idea of drafting. So, when RTR hit the stores I wasn’t much of a fan. However, over time, I’ve come to really enjoy the format and totally wished I had been interested in drafting RTR when it was out and the new hot game in town. Now, I just get to retro draft it…hopefully somewhere soon. Anyway, no more wasting time, let’s open this exciting pack and see what we find.
Ok, so this looks like a bit of a messy pack with a bunch of unexciting cards and healthy bunch of gold cards. With so many gold cards in this pack I am less worried about taking them because I know they are everywhere. That should sort of help ease my thought process, but it still leaves me looking at an ungodly number of gold cards.
My eyes are immediately drawn to the Supreme Verdict. This is a perfect card to grab first because it acts as a complete safety valve and reset button. 4 mana, uncounterable mass removal?! Sure…where do I sign up. Add in the fact that it is Constructed playable and worth plenty, and you have a very strong contender for first pick.
Another card that gets my attention is the Centaur Healer. 3 mana 3/3 creatures with a Enter the Battlefield trigger is a very solid creature. The extra 3 life is pretty reasonable and is a solid body to start attacking with or to plug up the ground. Either way, this is a very useful card.
Splatter Thug is another because while the card reads 2/2 first strike, it is really a 3/3 thanks to the Unleash ability (you weren’t really on intending to block with it anyway). The difference is the first strike which pushes this ahead because it trumps most other 3 drops, including the Centaur Healer. I also like the fact that it is in a single colour giving it a little more flexibility because it could splash it in a larger number of decks.
Selesnya Keyrune also sparks some interest because mana fixing could be pretty crucial in a format with so many gold cards. The fact that it can double as a creature makes it somewhat appealing because it dodges some of the removal, although it clearly is a tad slow and the activation is a little clunky.
Centaur’s Herald is an interesting 1 drop that can be redeemed for a larger body which makes it very useful and a solid mid-round pickup. If only it was a 1/1 and not a 0/1 we’d be golden.
Skull Rend is a card that I’m intrigued with. I like the ability to deal 2 damage and make my opponent discard two cards at random, but if I’m in Rakdos I don’t want to spend 5 mana on mediocre spells that don’t continue to pile on the damage in very large chunks. I can likely do better things with that 5 mana and do more damage. This might be a card I pick late round if I’m already in Black or Red and see if I can splash it…but I’m unsure. The rewards on the discard could be amazing, but the cost and loss of relative momentum from that point leaves me a little concerned.
Psychic Spiral could be an interesting card if you want to play the mill strategy. Splash it in a Golgari grave yard deck and see if you can’t get the accidental mill win. I don’t know…this feels like it could be a surprise and wreck the odd opponent, but will largely be underwhelming.
Cancel is a perfectly reasonable 3 mana counterspell. If you are playing Blue you want to have at least a copy or two of this in your pile, but I’m not lining up around the block to grab these and am happy to wait and see if I can’t find one later in the packs.
Drainpipe Vermin and Perilous Shadow are both reasonable black creatures to fill out your curve. Both have interesting abilities that come along with them and as a result might be something you want, but they are undoubtedly later picks because their relative power level is quite low.
Horncaller’s chant seems like a solid card, but the 8 mana price tag for a pair of 4/4 rhino’s is pretty steep. I would likely shy away from this unless I had some big time mana ramp. It is interesting, in M15 drafts I have seen Feral Incarnation has been cast with some devastating results and the cards are both very similar. The difference is the Convoke ability on the Feral Incarnation while with the Horncaller’s Chant you just got to get there. I would likely be shying away from this until the very last moment.
Codex Shredder plays a little bit to the graveyard synergies of the Golgari, but could also be part of mill strategy. In either case, this is a fringe card that you might opt to run. I wouldn’t get excited about this and certainly won’t prioritize it, but if the situation arises, I’ll be happy to pick it.
Destroy the Evidence would be just about the last card I’d want. 5 mana to take out a land seems very steep. The Mill effect that accompanies it is quite reasonable, I suppose, but I’m unlikely to be keen to mill out my opponent’s whole deck so I’ll likely avoid it too.
Swift Justice is a very marginal combat trick that could be nice, but I’m not likely to give it a spot in my deck. Pass it and move on.
This week’s first pick is easy. Supreme Verdict might be the best mass removal spell to have seen print in the last 5 years and to pass it would be criminal. W/U is a colour combination I’m very comfortable in, the card plays right into that strategy beautifully, and even packs a little monetary value so after the draft I could trade it or sell it. No, this is a pretty obvious first pick and one with a lot of upside. The other cards in this pack are all mediocre but you aren’t going to rush out and jump on them and be excited. You’ll play them, they’ll be acceptable, and you’ll pray that the next pack passed to you is better.
Well, there we have our pack for this week. Did you enjoy the look back at a little Return to Ravnica? I know I did…and I even found that Supreme Verdict, which has me pretty stoked. Would you have picked anything else? If yes, let me know, because I’d love to know what you would have taken instead.
Next week, for our 10th crack a pack (I know…where has the time gone!) I’ll be back to M15 as we start the final approach to Khans and the draft format changing all over again. Don’t worry, I’ll be back to bust open a few Retro packs at some point too, but we need to get back to what’s hot right now and that’s M15.
Thanks for reading again this week and until next time may you open only Mythic Bombs.
by Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters @bgray8791 on Twitter
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.
…in no particular order:
[Abrupt Decay]: this is probably my favourite card from the new set because it can deal with almost anything in the format, can’t be countered AND totally hoses counterbalance and chalice of the void. It’s all around sick with tons of options.
[Judges Familiar]: another one I think is very good as it gives decks like Maverick or Death and Taxes another way to interact with combo and can be especially devastating to [Hive Mind], ironically enough.
[Rest in Peace]: this card has two functions – one is as one of the best hate cards ever printed against Dredge and the other is that it enables a combo in its own right with [Helm of Obedience] by replacing [Leyline of the Void] so that you can instead play a tutor to fetch it up if you don’t start with it and can play it in a control shell.
[Detention Sphere]: so an [Oblivion Ring] that if my opponent has multiple threats with the same name deals with all of them? Oh and it’s pitchable to [Force of Will]……well then that’s spiffy. A lot of decks were all ready playing [Oblivion Ring] as a catch-all but this one is functionally better. It’s only downside is it can be [Pyroblast]ed so watch out.
[Supreme Verdict]: this one is my last pick. I’m not 100% completely with it but I think it definitely has potential It’s a sweeper that can’t be countered which may prove useful to rid yourself of those damn [mongeese].
BONUS: the one card I really really really want to see make a splash is [Epic Experiment]. I really hope someone breaks this card as I would love to play it and have been working on a list which we will see if it works!