There comes a time in every Magic player’s time that they go to Ravnica. 2005’s Ravnica: City of Guilds and 2012’s Return to Ravnica are both high-water marks in Magic design, and last fall’s Guilds of Ravnica continued the big, splashy flavors that the Ravnica experience brings with it. But this review isn’t about those things. It’s about Ravnica Allegience, which is out now, and how much I enjoy it.
That’s a lot of magical word salad up there, but if you’re just tuning into Magic as a game, here’s what you need to know: Magic jumps around to different worlds with every new set that is released. Some of those worlds are new and strange, and others are old standbys. Each has a particular feel to it, and that feel is communicated through the cards using both classic and new mechanics that create novel interactions. Each set is meant to be a different kind of experience, and Ravnica might still be the set that accomplishes that best.
The reason that Ravnica is so good at that is that it’s organized by guilds. These guilds are two-color pairings that get to the heart of what those colors are doing. For example, blue mana in Magic is marked by inquisitiveness, invention and a will to outmaneuver. White mana is generally known for removing enemy cards from the game, creating small creatures and taxing opponents’ resources. On Ravnica, those colors are put together to create the Azorius guild, which uses brilliant intellect and brutal enforcement measures to create laws and enforce them. On a fictional level, it’s smart. On a mechanical level, it’s brilliant.
I’m on the record often saying that Magic is the greatest game ever made, and the fact that we’ve had 25 years of that game is kind of astounding. To put it bluntly, I think it’s still here because of Ravnica. The world of Ravnica, with its groups that distill the basic color pairs that make up the everyday play of the game, provides a ground to compare everything else to.
And all of that is to build to my point, which is that the newest set, Ravnica Allegience, is the best impulses of Magic humming along on all cylinders. Following up on 2018’s Guilds of Ravnica, Ravnica Allegience brings us the aggressive Gruul, the ghostly Orzhov, the manipulative Simic, the destructive Rakdos, and the controlling Azorius. From a play perspective, that means that this set has two viable builds that are incredibly aggressive (Gruul and Rakdos) and three that are more of the sit-back-and-build-your-board type. From my experience playing a few drafts and a couple sealed tournaments on Magic Arena, this makes for one of the better Limited formats simply because there’s a bit of time for players to think. Your decisions matter, the decks don’t build themselves, and you really have to consider your attacks, blocks and use of supporting spells.
If you’ve been out of the Magic game for a while, Ravnica Allegience is a great place to jump back in simply because it demonstrates some of the core strengths of Magic design. You don’t have to be a hyper-enfranchised player to succeed in the format, and there’s enough interesting and unique stuff (like Simic Ascendancy) that even the most rogue of deckbuilders will find something that makes them interested in playing.
As for how this set will impact the broader experience of Magic, including Standard and Modern formats, I cannot say. Sometimes it seems that creating cards for the experience of Draft or Sealed and creating cards for Standard or Modern are two processes that are fundamentally at odds with one another, and Ravnica Allegience mostly excels at the former and leaves the latter to the wayside. There are few cards in this set that get me hyped up about going and building a brand-new Standard deck to take down to my local Friday Night Magic event, and frankly that’s fine. If I have a choice between a set having an interesting Limited environment and cards that make for a crunchy, highly competitive Constructed format, I’m going to go for the former.
All in all, Ravnica Allegience establishes the core expectations for Magic sets for the next couple years. It isn’t raising the bar; it’s creating the new bar. And that means that I’m going to constantly be referring back to it mentally when I’m playing the next couple years of Magic. If the game designers can keep topping this work, then that’s a good thing. If they can’t, then I’ll be yearning for the past. I guess that’s the curse of good work.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com. His latest game, Epanalepsis, is available on Steam.