Ravnica Allegiance Set Review

Ravnica Allegiance Set Review

I enjoyed writing my last set review so much, I’m going to continue reviewing new magic sets. I’m going to again pick 24 of the coolest cards to talk about. However this time I found the mythics to be underwhelming, so I have more rares and commons to talk about this time.

Before I started writing this review, I wasn’t too excited about the set. The mechanics are quite dull, and the plot has barely advanced on Ravnica. However, writing this review has made me realise how many cool and exciting cards there are in this set, especially at lower rarities. As before, these are the cards and designs that interest me, not those with the best chance of seeing play in any format.

Top Rares and Mythics

Biogenic Ooze

For the first time, oozes get a lord. The creature type is famous for doing weird things like absorbing abilities, but my favourite oozes are those that replicate.Gutter Grime and Mitotic Slime are two previous examples, but this time, the ooze can snowball out of control. If you don’t have removal you will get slimed.

Interestingly this lord is not legendary. Not only does legendary status seem strange for a replicating ooze, this card is fantastic in multiples. Commander players already have legendary oozes to choose from, so I’m glad this ooze can bring all it’s friends.

Domri, Chaos Bringer

Planeswalker designs are undergoing a few changes at the moment. Set mechanics are now being allowed on planeswalkers, which had happened very infrequently until now. Domri’s plus one ability gives riot, without explaining what riot is. I have never liked this restriction and I’m excited about the change. It gives set mechanics an opportunity to shine on the most exciting card type in magic. On Domri in particular, the plus one lets a creature heavy Gruul deck ramp into big and hasty creatures, which captures Gruul’s ‘smash first’ philosophy perfectly.

Another change worth mentioning is the creation of niche planeswalkers, that are not an automatic include for that colour combination. Kaya, Orzhov Usurper is a very perplexing and intriguing planeswalker, that seems designed for sideboards and hating on certain match ups. This is a very novel place to be for planeswalker design.

Sphinx of Foresight

There are only 18 cards in the history of the game that activate in your opening hand. Leylines like Leyline of the Void either do nothing or lock your opponent out of the game. The chancellors like Chancellor of the Tangle gave you a small effect on a huge body, which is awkward to take full advantage of.

Our new sphinx has one of the most powerful of these abilities. This card can single handedly prevent mana screw by getting your fourth land as fast as possible. Once in play, it can scry all your lands to the bottom, stopping mana flood as well. The effect is so powerful that decks may want it, even if they don’t need an efficient flying threat.

Mirror March

This is an excellent example of story equity. This card will rightfully be ignored by competitive players. It does nothing until you play another creature, and even then it does nothing half the time. But once it a while the coin gods smile on you and it makes eight copies of something crazy and you have a fantastic story you never forget.

This really shows the value of approaching cards for different audiences in different ways. Making it more reliable for competitive play would neuter the once in a blue moon moments, leaving a card that no-one would love.

Biomancer’s Familiar

The adapt mechanic was a big disappointment for me, because there are limited ways in the set to use up the counters to adapt multiple times. Without this mechanic, it is just a less flavourful version of monstrous, designed to be easier to remember during a game. I loved evolve in Gatecrash, so adapt was a let down for me. However if you have a familiar in play, adapt gets a lot cheaper and more powerful.

The first ability also has importance for older sets. It is a duplicate of Training Grounds, providing much needed redundancy before you can build a deck around activated abilities. It is also a creature, so it will be easier to tutor for. There will definitely be some fun casual brews in modern using these cards.

Pestilent Spirit

The art on this card perfectly captures the idea of this card. The combination of menace and deathtouch is horrible to block, forcing a two for one if blocked. It is powerful, it has only previously appeared on a mythic (Dire Fleet Ravager) and a triple coloured gold card (Kederekt Creeper).

On top of this, we have a novel ability giving deathtouch to spells. Since most relevant black spells would kill anyway, this ability may have limited applications, but it is a flavour home run. It also calls back to Soulfire Grand Master which gave lifelink.

Nikya of the Old Ways

Gruul loves nothing more than big creatures. If you love creature heavy decks, the drawback just becomes flavour text.

The upside however is huge. Nikya grants you a personal Heartbeat of Spring, doubling your mana, letting you cast twelve mana of creatures on turn six. If you can commit yourself to only playing creatures, you’ll be able to play any creature no matter how expensive.In particular hydras with X in their costs become fantastic. Curving into a 10/10 double striking Savageborn Hydra sounds fantastic.

Teysa Karlov

Panharmonicon is probably my favourite card from Kaladesh. Teysa is a alternate Panharmonicon that doubles your death triggers instead. Teysa is the best card in an afterlife deck, doubling your spirits and giving them two abilities, despite not mentioning afterlife at all.

Once you start looking to older sets, there are some degenerate combinations. Wurmcoil Engine becomes disgusting, and in standard Elenda, the Dusk Rose gets so so much value, by doubling the counters, as well as the vampire tokens. Like Panharmonicon, there are always new combos to discover.

Plaza of Harmony

Guilds of Ravnica had some great payoffs for playing guild gates, but Ravnica Allegiance is through the roof.There are a lot of exciting reasons to play gates at uncommon for limited, (more on those later) but this rare really helps you craft a cheap and powerful constructed deck around guildgates.

Despite all the exciting payoffs, Plaza of Harmony is the glue holding the deck together. The life gain offsets the hits you take while you are playing tapped lands, and the second mana ability lets you play cards with restrictive colour requirements. It may not be as splashy as the infamous Maze’s End but Plaza subtly takes the edge off playing so many tapped lands.

Unbreakable Formation

Addendum has a very Azorius flavoured name, but playing instants at sorcery speed is very strange. It does however create some interesting modal spells, that function very differently depending on when they are played. Unbreakable Formation at instant speed is a useful but probably unplayable insurance against removal. During your main phase the tables really turn. You don’t have to trouble yourself with combat maths, just swing with your whole team, and let your opponent pick up the pieces. Other cards with very different modes are Sentinel’s Mark and Code of Constraint. They start as combat tricks, but get small bonuses for the alternate modes.

Unfortunately I do feel the other Addendum cards miss the mark. It is a difficult mechanic to balance. If the bonus is too good or not good enough, the mechanic feels like a drawback, rather than creating an interesting modal card. The build around card for the mechanic Dovin’s Acuity is a fantastic combo with Tome of the Guildpact letting you draw so many cards.

Mass Manipulation

I love a unique mana cost.In a set built around gold cards and guilds, Mass manipulation stands out as a massive incentive to devote yourself to the colour blue. It is hard to emphasis how back breaking this is when cast for eight mana. You lose your two best creatures and probably use two removal spells to restore the balance. Except it can never be balanced because you spent four cards to answer this. God forbid you cast for ten mana!

The art is also a perfect fit. Saturated in deep dark blues with haunting glowing eyes, the ordinary citizens of Ravnica are transformed into something quite creepy.

Smothering Tithe

The last time we visited Ravnica, the Orzhov mechanic was extort. The game play was fine, but I never felt it matched the flavour of extortion. The extort mechanic taxed your own creatures, but Smothering Tithe appropriatley taxes your opponent. It may not be an Orzhov card, but tithe and Emergency Powers are a very fun combination.

This card is also an interesting attempt to solve problems white has in multiplayer games. By triggering for each opponent, you will soon be rolling in treasure. It also combines well with cards like Thorn of Amethyst and Sphere of Resistance since no matter what your opponent chooses, you will have a lot more mana to play with relative to your opponent.

Top Commons and Uncommons

Light Up the Stage

My first uncommon has potential to have a big impact in many formats. I believe every colour should get some form of card draw. Instead of blue getting all the card draw, it gets the best card draw. Red has had a temporary form of card draw for a few years with effects like Act on Impulse. Usually this has a big drawback that you must use the cards this turn, which is challenging having spent mana.

Light Up the Stage is the first card since Commune with Lava to give you an extra turn to use the cards. This lets you untap all your lands to cast spells and an extra land drop for lands you exile. I think this style of card draw is a perfect fit for red’s impulsive nature. What makes Light Up the Stage even more exciting is the spectacle cost. This makes it fantastic card draw for aggressive decks.

Sphinx of the Guildpact

The second Sphinx on my list has one of the most beautiful frames in Magic. I love the combination of gold borders and the artifact frame. The same effect appears on Transguild Courier but that had a fully golden border.

The rules text is also interesting. Being five colours means Might of the Nephilim gives the sphinx +10/+10. The hexproof ability is both flavourful and ensures the sphinx is killable whilst requiring a specialist answer. This is perfect for an uncommon seven drop.

Orzhov Enforcer

The real magic of Ravnica comes from the overlaps and interactions between guilds. Orzhov Enforcer is a perfect fit for any black guild. Orzhov and Dimir want cheap creatures to keep them alive until the late game, so deathtouch and an additional chump blocker are great. Golgari are trying to fill the graveyard, so deathtouch creatures are fantastic at trading. If your opponent won’t cooperate it can still be sacrificed for value. Rakdos needs reliable ways to enable spectacle, so is very happy to attack with the enforcer. If it dies, the flying spirit token can trigger spectacle turn after turn.

Afterlife is a rather bland mechanic, which we have essentially seen on many similar cards like Doomed Traveler. My other favourite afterlife cards are Ministrant of Obligation and Debtors’ Transport. These cards draw upon the Orzhov lore of having power over debtors even after death.

Eyes Everywhere

Another feature of the current Ravnica sets are the inclusion of cards themed around other guilds. They don’t get the full flavour, but just enough to make the set feel bigger and more well rounded.

Eyes Everywhere has a clear Dimir spymaster feel. It is also an intriguing card to evaluate for limited. It also plays wildly differently depending on whether or not your opponent has access to blue mana. If they don’t you can carefully decide what you want to keep forever. Ultimating someone else’s planeswalker is the dream. In a blue mirror match, this resembles Perplexing Chimera leading to your bombs getting swapped back and forth.

Gate Colossus

Ravnica Allegiance has a great gate draft archetype, which is a hot topic for being especially easy to force on Arena when drafting against robots that always pass gates and the payoffs. That makes no sense when you look at the payoffs you can get. Gatekeeper Colossus is a huge and potentially undercosted recursive threat. There is even a daft combo with Amplifier, although unfortunately the colossus gets sent to the bottom of your deck.

I could have included a number of other cards at this slot. Gates Ablaze is just what a slow deck needs to make up for the large number of tapped lands it plays. Or how about a giant sheep? Gatebreaker Ram gets bigger and scarier every time you play a gate. Even better, the ram will always survive your gates ablaze.

Galloping Lizrog

This card solves my biggest problem with the adapt mechanic. Adapt has great potential with ways to remove counters from creatures. Simic could have been a very creative guild to play, constantly creating, moving and using up the counters on your creatures. The Lizrog is the perfect excuse to reuse your adapt abilities. It is also a perfect fit for decks using Simic Ascendancy, netting triple the value for your counters.

While Simic’s mechanic may have fallen a little short, their crazy hybridisation schemes never fail to amuse. This time we have a ‘frog lizard’, whilst on other cards like Hydroid Krasis and Sharktocrab see even weirder combinations. What will they think of next?

Dovin’s Acuity

The headline uncommons in a set are the build arounds and Ravnica Allegiance doesn’t disappoint. Cards like High Alert and Cavalcade of Calamity challenge a player’s card evaluation skills and provide new ways to play a format, keeping it fresh and exciting. This is especially important in a set like this that has only five official draft archetypes. It means that two drafters sharing a colour pair at the same table can build completely different decks.

Dovin’s Acuity is a classic build around, asking you to do something you wouldn’t normally do. It encourages you to draft addendum spells, but functions with any instant spells. This flexibility is a great way to design a build around card for a new mechanic. It’s also a callback to Disinformation Campaign, a similar build around from the previous set.

Essence Scatter

My last uncommon is a match made in heaven for mono-blue tempo decks. The idea of tempo decks is to gain an advantage and then prevent your opponent from catching up. This card has helped power up mono-blue tempo in standard.

Standard has a number of evasive one-drop blue creatures. This card is a love letter to those creatures. It can nullify an opponent’s whole turn while growing your threat. Essence Capture fits the game plan so well, it glues the deck together, making it much more than a sum of its parts.

Growth Spiral

Seb McKinnon has painted some fantastic pieces for this set. Bedevil really stands out, and in a normal set would be the best piece of art in the set. But that honour goes to Growth Spiral which has sensational art. I just love this art. It’s an often repeated complaint that the art on Magic cards has become too dependent on computer graphics and realism and that art was better back in the day. Personally I think the art has become more consistent in quality with fewer terrible arts, but also too homogenous. Fortunately McKinnon bucks that trend with a distinctive and eye catching style.

The card also fits beautifully into a traditional blue green play pattern. Blue and green can make great use of instant speed effects with flash creatures and counterspells, whilst also ramping into big payoffs. This plays as a scaled down version of my long time favourite Urban Evolution with fewer memory issues when counting your land drops for the turn.

Persistent Petitioners

How do you make an expensive common? Let people play as many as they want in their deck. Removing the four-of rule fuels all sorts of shenanigans. My favourite is with Thrumming Stone which lets you empty your library into play. Inspiring deck-builders to play thirty copies of a card really drives up demand. Cards with this rules text are always sought after and Shadowborn Apostle badly needs a reprint.

Historically this ability has always appeared in black, so the petitioners have broken new ground, unless you are playing limited, where every card ever printed has this rule. By focusing on milling which is beloved by casual players, Persistent Petitioners really has the potential to become a very valuable common.

Skewer the Critics

Skewer the Critics is another great example of spectacle. I think the minor restriction of hurting an opponent on this card makes for a fun variant on Lightning Bolt. Rakdos really stands out for me in this set for having a strong and novel theme of deviant entertainers. This isn’t completely new. Return to Ravnica had cards like Gore-Chain Walker and Rakdos Ringleader but that set didn’t capitalise on the thematic potential.

With our third visit to Ravnica, the designers have had fun exploring this unique aspect of the Rakdos guild. Captive Audience is a unique card representing an audience enslaved by their depraved appetites. The master showman himself Rakdos, the showstopper even creates macabre drama when he enters play. I think Ravnica Allegiance hasn’t changed the core of Rakdos, but has successfully given it a unique and compelling identity.

Goblin Gathering

Goblin Gathering is the newest entry in a list of spells that get stronger each time you cast them. They date back to Kindle, first printed in Tempest. Accumulated Knowledge is another card that becomes very powerful as you cast more of them. Goblin Gathering is the first to create tokens, letting you cast spell after spell without getting destroyed by creatures.

These cards are interesting for many reasons. Although not important in this draft environment, they are good with self mill or discard, allowing you to skip the first overcosted version of the spell. They also never fail to create discussion in draft. In limited the dream of playing more than four copies is possible, and they can completely change your pick orders, depending on how early you start collecting the cards.

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