With my friends investigating Magic: The Gathering I’ve been surveying the past few years of the game. Usually, from block to block, there are some cards that are worth grabbing and hanging onto because they’re superstars in casual games. One of my favourites like this is Rhystic Study, which has proven to be amazing in multiplayer games just because nobody can be bothered killing it, and even fewer people want to pay the extra mana while they’re busy dealing with other people.
With Return to Ravnica cycling out of standard soon, I thought I’d take the moment to go back and look at the commons of the original Ravnica block. I really like Ravnica – it was a set I played mostly online, and gave me most of my tournament success. I also think that Ravnica gives me cards that, when I play on Magic Online, I almost always use. The set had some real gems in the cheap seats, and here are a few you should look around to pick up.
There has basically never been a time I made a black-white deck where this card didn’t fit in the list at some point. Often refined out of the deck, pared away, and often replaced with its creature alternative, Tidehollow Sculler, Castigate is still a card worth grabbing for all BW decks, aggressive or defensive.
There are a lot of cards that fit this mould. Spend three mana, wind up two cards ahead. Some only dig you two cards deep, but the best tend to dig us three. The best of these cards is still probably Thirst for Knowledge, but that card only works well in an artifact-heavy deck. Compulsive puts you three cards down, and lets you throw out the most populous card type with the least specific use in your deck. Basically, Compulsive is one of the best cards for its cost and when I’m filling out blue decks, it’s inevitably on the list.
These cards are transmute cards and I kind of love them to bits. You can either build a deck around Transmute effects, where your transmute cards dig up valuable toolbox pieces, or you can use them as redundant copies of very important cards.
I really like Dimir House Guard as a toolbox card; you can transmute it on turn three for a card to cast on turn four. At four mana, it can fetch some amazing cards – honestly, too many to list individually – and you can build an entire control deck around playing with that sort of thing. If you want to build a deck even more around the theme of the transmute toolbox, Shred and Dimir Infiltrator offer other elements. After all, the Infiltrator can tutor up cards like Rise/Fall and Oversold Cemetary that can repeatedly recur the Infiltrator!
Basically, these cards are handy tutors to add if you find your deck meaty around one mana cost, or you want to slip in a few utility cards without glutting your deck with them.
When you’re building a control deck, you will look for removal options. Usually, when you’re building any black deck, you’ll look for removal. Most black removal has some stipulations – colour, size, speed, whatever – and Last Gasp is just another refined tool in a wide kit. Get a set and remember you have them – they’re also one of the few ways you can make combat between two other players into a lose-lose situation. The Fetters and Pillory are also amazing, if specialised tools – Fetters because it costs four (more than aggressive decks want) and pillory because its slow bleed is actually meaningful when it’s added to other pressure.
Kills tokens for one mana and draws you a card, deals with a lot of troublesome permanents for a small amount, and fuels cantrip decks. I use Repeal a lot when I’m feeling out blue decks and while I replace it often, it’s still the best place to start testing.
Praise be to the two-power utility dork. I love cards like this; they represent enough power that if they sneak through once or twice, they’ve taken a meaningful chunk out of your opponent’s life total; if they’re stymied by bigger threats, they’ve already earned their card and can hover around the edges, or in the case of the trumpeter, change gear and role. If you’re in the colours, you should always consider these creatures for the task they offer – mana-fixing, disruption, or board control.
When it comes to most of Dredge’s cards, the cards are of minimal direct value. For the most part, dredge was a deck that used a bunch of junky bits to generate a big, explosive turn and win all out nowhere. Unlike most of those cards, though, Stinkweed Imp fits in almost all graveyard-oriented decks, and does a good job in the mean time by standing his ground and threatening opponents’ attackers.
I cannot stress this enough. Whenever I’m building a deck that isn’t designed to be a perfect mana curve, that can’t use any leftover mana, I start with the colours, and the bouncelands appropriate. If it’s a three-coloured deck, I use about eight bouncelands. I could write an article about how much I like these basic, common lands and the signets for easing mana and ease of play.
Getting good mana is a big, important part of becoming comfortable playing Magic. These lands and artifacts make your early, prototype decks better, they are very cheap to acquire for how useful they are, and make it possible for you to cast interesting spells.