Return to Ravnica Block’s Greatest (and Worst) Hits, According to Gatherer
Welcome to the lofty spires and sewer dregs of Ravnica! This week we… what’s that? You want me to rate Theros cards instead? I… hmm… looks like I need to explain how According to Gatherer works.
In the According to Gatherer series, I don’t choose the best or worst cards. The Magic playing audience does, by going to Gatherer, Magic’s online database, and giving each card a rating between 5 to 0.5 stars. I don’t do windows. My job is to sift through the data and pull the gems out. Think of me as a gem puller outer.
I could make a Theros list. But, since there would only be three or so votes for each card, the information would be biased by a Kentucky grocery clerk and his two dogs. Besides, the article would have a short shelf life, since it’d be based on what looks good on computer screens, not what is good on paper. It takes time for enough votes to make a vote sandwich. About a year, to be precise. Hey, look everybody! It’s a segue!
You know what? Skip the segue. You get the rest. Let’s see some spires!
Most Desirable Card – Judge’s Familiar
Coming in at 4.368 stars from a total 155 votes, Judge’s Familiar shows you don’t need to be a huge splashy monster to finish first. You just need to be the perfect match for every deck.
And, yes, this owl can do that. Playable in any deck that contains blue, white, or both, Judge’s Familiar soars into the game on round one and starts pecking. Are you playing Aggro? Then the familiar is an early evasive creature who can protect insure a smooth round two and three from your opponent’s early removal. Playing Tempo? The owl flies above your early threats and offers breathing room when you extend for a combat trick. Mid-range? Then you don’t care about early Searing Spears as much as timely Cancels and Mind Rots. The same applies to Combo. Either way, the owl keeps watch. Control? There’s nothing better than watching your opponent throw the game, as they waste precious early turns paying one extra mana for half the spells they cast. And all the while, the owl keeps pecking. Peck, peck, peck.
Judge’s Familiar is a Seal of Force Spike that attacks while your opponent dithers. Sure, sometimes you’d rather trap your opponent with a timely Disrupt and net card advantage. But Disrupt only works if your opponent’s deck contains a certain threshold of Instants and Sorceries, and still requires you to keep up that . Disrupt can’t block. Meanwhile, with nothing to counter, Judges’ Familiar is still better than Suntail Hawk. Disrupt is a good card for the sideboard. If Judge’s Familiar is in your sideboard, then you’re wasting slots. Move him to your main deck.
Best Comment by BigBer: “Because of the sac requirement I cannot help but imagine that when someone tries to cast a spell in court, the judge grabs the owl and chucks it at the offending mage. You know, like Fling. But with a Counterspell. ‘Order! Order! And no magic in my courtroom!’ ‘*BWUK!*’
Runner Up – Deathrite Shaman
I used to adore Decipher’s old Star Wars Customizable Card Game. Besides providing solid (though, admittedly, tough to learn) mechanics, and a universe of flavor, it also featured a sense of forward momentum over time that I never quite experienced in any other game.
It achieved this by printing one new ‘best’ location in each expansion, and players would learn to adopt the new location. For example, The Main Power Generators from the third set, Hoth, was a better starting location than all the previous locations, so Light Side players ran it. Since The Main Power Generators defended themselves with shields, Dark Side players were forced to deploy a number of locations away, and march toward the Generators to shut them down. But this often left the Dark Side spread out, and incapable of defending their supply line. Dark Side players would learn to recruit mammoth AT-ATs, which wre impervious to Rebel gunfire. As Imperial forces continued their inexorable march across the hostile ice planet, The Rebel Alliance player would employ snowspeeders, harpoons and tow cables to trip the opponent’s giant walking fortresses. Within a few weeks after the release of a new set, the background landscape would change from desert to ice planet, as the environment would spin on one card.
We got a feel for this in 2013 when Deathrite Shaman became a regular feature, and a number of graveyard focused Innistrad mainstays rotated out. You could still run Snapcaster Mage, but now you’d need to answer a one cost creature before the party started. For many players, it wasn’t worth it. The background changed to an eternal cityscape, and the environment spun on one card.
Except, unlike Decipher’s Star Wars, the environment didn’t spin on the back of one marginally better card that cascaded into a number of little changes. That sort of power creep can only be employed in a collectible card game which would naturally obsolete itself. Instead, Magic takes a different path, making cards that are approximately as good, but that hate on the previous sets. It works, and the game is healthier for it, though it doesn’t warp an environment into something crazy and new so much as give breathing room to a different set of cards that were waiting in the wing.
Meanwhile, I can’t help wonder if there’s such a thing as ‘Hater Creep’. Instead of pulling up the rest of the game to match the standard of the best cards in any one environment, the environment is pushed up from the bottom by baseline hate that must answer last year’s top cards. After all, Deathrite Shaman might not be broken, but it sure is one crazy piece of hate, in a way that Grafdigger’s Cage evidently wasn’t.
Best Comment by Demento_Recraves: “Captain Planet’s morbid cousin. ‘Remember kids, recycle everything! EVERYTHING!'”
Most Devastating Red Card – Rakdos Cackler
In The Top Ten Most Devastating Red Cards, According to Gatherer, I miserated that red doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Red does fine at the tournament level, even if it didn’t rate a single mention in the Top Ten Most Desirable list. That’s probably fair. The cards on that list are an entire truckload of bananas and are too good by dint of early development mistakes. Still, the pattern continues in Return to Ravnica, and red doesn’t rate on our list until card number twelve, and it still is forced to share the spotlight with black (though, to be fair, Rakdos Cackler is beaten by two gold cards, and five dual lands.)
I find it amusing that the best card in each color this year is also a one cost hybrid creature. Amusing, and acceptable, since good one cost hybrid creatures are a premium to all two and three color decks. It’s just… isn’t anybody weirded out that these three creatures are better than almost every mono-colored one drop creature we’ve seen thus far?
I mean, it wasn’t so long ago that Goblin Guide was the most broken experience red could offer for . Rakdos Cackler doesn’t obsolete the Guide. Guide is still a Goblin, comes with haste, and doesn’t need to play games to block (not that that’s a priority for any deck packing either of these cards. But sometimes stuff happens.) Cackler, on the other hand, doesn’t guarantee your opponent will move into their midgame. To me, haste doesn’t seem worth the free cards. Maybe you disagree. That’s fine. The correct response, anyway, is to play both cards when given the option. But did this card need to be the second best one drop black creature in the game as well? Whoops. I mean third, after Deathrite Shaman, of course.
Best comment by lorendorky: “I want to give this guy a Fists of the Demigod!”
Oof. That sounds painful, lorendorky. But to each their own, I say.
Most Awesome Legendary Commander – Rakdos, Lord of Riots
The hits keep coming from red/black when the ringmaster appears. I know the Rakdos guild is supposed to represent a sadistic twist on circuses, featuring cards like Rakdos Carnarium Madcap Skills and Showstopper. But Rakdos, the Demon doesn’t seem to care. The Defiler steps beyond his twisted carnival and into the streets, slaughtering party-goer and passer-by alike.
In theory, Rakdos, Lord of Riots features a drawback. It’s tough to notice, though. I’m sure many players have dropped him onto the battlefield whether or not they dealt damage that turn. Dealing damage by turn four is so common for Black/Red, that it must be hard to remember it’s a prerequisite. For your opponent’s pains, you get a four-cost 6/6 flying, trampling Demon. The next line of text, where you would expect the real drawback to begin, is pure gravy.
It’s easy to ignore the extra goodies packed into Rakdos, when you’re boxing your opponent’s ears in for six. But each time Rakdos hits, you’ll be pulling an extra six mana for creatures. That’s double the power of Thran Dynamo for the price of one. Except, Thran Dynamo doesn’t gut punch your opponent for six damage whenever you activate it.
Sure, sure. Feel free to dump your hand on the table the turn Rakdos grabs your opponent by the face and smashes the back of their head into the pavement. But let’s think crazy. What’s the silliest thing we can get for on round five? Dread Cacodemon? Myojin of Infinite Rage? Kozilek, Butcher of Truth? Notice how those cards all contain anti-Zombify riders preventing players from abusing them? Yeah, the game really wasn’t expecting you to race those monsters into play on turn five by casting them. Not that there’s anything wrong with slipping a few Zombifys in that same deck to take advantage of the huge stats on those giant creatures. You know what else you can Zombify into play? Rakdos, Lord of Riots. So much for that drawback.
Best Comment, by ZeEvilMoustache: “Playing for the Azorious guild, I came so close to arresting Rakdos. I’m pretty sure that would have got me a promotion.”
Most Boring Card – Skygames
Location: Exterior. A number of posts stick out of the ground, and magic circles fill the air in some kind of athletic field?
Action: None. Include a stadium, but make sure no one is sitting in it. You may also include something flying through a far off ring. But if you do, make it distant enough so that the viewer can’t figure out what’s going on.
Mood: This looks like it could be fun! But in reality, it’s probably just a bunch of hoops to jump through…
In the Six Most Boring Cards, we concluded that 2.071 is the most boring rating. Skygames lands and sticks that number, claiming a prized spot in our pantheon of apathy. 2.071 cards are tricky. They always contain a glimmer of hope. Two people, after all, must have thought the card was worthy of three stars. But the truth is always, no. No, It’s never worth it.
Skygames is no exception to this rule. On first glance it looks like a serviceable common. It’s cheap. And it gives one of your creatures flying. Flying is good, right? But the Skygames are only broadcast on one channel, during your turn. You can’t even activate it once combat begins, so if your opponent tosses a surprise Chemister’s Trick in the mix, you’re dead on the ground. As an aura, there’s always a chance of losing two permanents to one spell. That shouldn’t happen often, since Skygames is an Enchant Land. But, as an Enchant Land, it also ties up your mana base, giving this card a secret activation of , .
And it compares terribly to contemporaries. Personally, I prefer my permanents which grant the gift of flight to be creatures, like Caller of the Gale. But if you must have an enchantment that provides flying, Zephyr Charge is a common in Magic 2014. You know, unless you like hoops. Zephyr Charge doesn’t come with any hoops to jump through.
For what it’s worth, the card that Skygames beat out for this prestigious slot is Cobblebrute, which ranks at 2.078. So it’s true. We can say that Skygames is more boring than a pile of rocks.
Best Comment by Goatllama: “Target creature plays Quidditch for a turn.”
Most Despised Card – Primal Visitation
Ooh yeah! Take Oakenform, add two mana (including a second color), add Haste and strike a pose like you’re the Macho Man, Randy Savage yelling “Can you dig it!” and you get Primal Visitation. Even the card name is terrible. It sounds like a friends’ wife reminding you about her ‘monthly trip to see Aunt Flo’.
Well, that put a terrible new spin on the artwork.
I’m sure someone in my reader-verse wants to defend this card. After all, if I hit six mana and have a one-drop dork stuck in my hand, then I can play that dork, enchant it, and swing for, let’s say, five. That’s pretty good. You know what’s also good? Playing a five cost creature in red-green with haste and five power. That way you don’t waste two cards to do what you should have done with one. That’s right. I compared Primal Visitation to Eron the Relentless and Eron came out on top, looking like a Casanova.
To get any mileage from Primal Visitation, we need to scale upwards, and plan to cast this card with upward to eight land up. And as we scale upward, I can’t help but wonder why we’re bothering to dedicate so much mana to such a marginal effect. Especially considering Gatecrash is packed to the scruff with Bloodrush, a keyword that gives us the flexibility of a creature, or a creature boost to attacking creatures. While Haste seems like a natural match for Bloodrush, it doesn’t work, since the creature must attack first to be Bloodrushed. It’s possible that Wizards felt Haste should go somewhere in Gruul, but if they made a good card, they would have to reduce the power level of another Bloodrush card for the guilds to balance. What a terrible thing to do, Wizards, in my imaginary rationalization!
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