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Welcome to Ravnica. Welcome back, that is. This seems to be a motif of Magic: revisiting old haunts, often with new twists. If we look more deeply, Return to Ravnica is less of a return than a revolt from Ravnica. While superficially similar, the mechanics, themes, and ideas are a rejection of what we found in Ravnica. Yes, the Guilds exist. Yes, hybrid cards are here. Yes, dual lands and mana producing artifacts are here.
But what’s not here are the incredible mechanics, top tier creatures, and powerful bombs. Ravnica was a set of huge spells, potent engines, and broken mechanics. Ravnica was the home of Dark Confidant, Life from the Loam, Remand, Dredge, and Golgari-Grave Troll. It was the set of Darkblast, Seeds of the Past, Flame-Kin Zealot, Stinkweed Imp, and Muddle the Mixture.
This set is far more timid in terms of the splashy spell. Epic Experiment and Jace, Architect of Thought highlight and exemplify the limitations of the set. These are cards that want to be great, that could be great, but are just a hair away or a subtle limitation from reaching that aspiration. In contrast to the bold mechanics of the Golgari or Dimir from the original Ravnica (Dredge & Transmute), we have weak and anemic mechanics that are, admittedly, flavorful, but far less interesting in the older formats.
If there is a card from the original Ravnica era that reminds of this new Ravnica, it’s Dimir Cutpurse: a creature that is almost, but not quite good enough. This new Ravnica features plenty of near playables, aggressively costed gold cards that demand attention, but perhaps not a spot in your 75.
But perhaps most surprising of all, and certainly the most subversive to the original Ravnica, is the fact that the best Eternal cards from this set aren’t threats, but answers. Again and again, the cards that stand out for Eternal play aren’t huge bombs, flashy spells, or dangerous mechanics, but exactly the opposite: brutal hosers, stalwart answers, and utility tactics. Could that be more different than the original world of Ravnica?