As a long-standing casual Magic player, I spent most of my time as avoiding the big tournaments. I never really got into the different formats (everything I play is technically Legacy, but nothing on a tournament level). As a result, I spent a lot of time staying away from card shop events when new sets came out. All of this came to an end when the first Ravnica block was released. Out of all the cards that I’ve amassed in my collection (at least ten thousand at this point), the first Ravnica block is by far the largest chunk. At the time of its release I had a core group of six to eight players, and we would spend massive amounts of time and money buying booster boxes, having our own drafts, and braving gaming shops to participate in their tournaments.
For several blocks, drafts at stores were just boring. You did your booster draft (taking a card and passing it around), or you did a sealed draft (you got your own packs to work with). As the sets went along, pre-releases became more interesting. With the Scars of Mirrodin pre-release event, you were able to choose a faction and received draft packs for your side. While the idea was good, serious Magic players would hunt down which side had more powerful or more expensive cards, and choose based on that. With only two choices, it was a bit dull to know that you only had two types of opponents. Personally, I found it more boring than a standard base set pre-release (I actually had more fun at a M13 pre-release).
And then it happened.
In early spring of this year, Wizards announced the next expansion block would be a return to Ravnica (literally the title, ironically enough). Two years after the Magic universe made a repeat appearance to the world of Mirrodin, it would be making a second pass into Ravnica. On the one side, I was excited to see a new expansion block for the ten guilds that helped rekindle my love for the game. On the other, I was disappointed about the fact that I was yet again getting a repeat setting for an expansion block instead of brand new content. I denounced it initially, because I wanted creativity, not a rehash. I eventually got over myself and accepted the fact that I’d still be pouring money into it because, well, it’s Ravnica, and you knew it was going to rock.
What I didn’t realize was how well Wizards of the Coast would handle the pre-release of this set. Their first big step is revealing the entire set before the event. For years, the power of the internet and fancy phones that took pictures helped fuel websites and their ability to construct an entire set before release based solely on rumors, super-secret promo cards, and leaked information. In recent years, as some sort of acceptance of this, Wizards finally said “Fine, take it!” and gives everyone an official peek at the entire set the week of the pre-release.
The other big improvement by Wizards of the Coast was the draft format itself, which was a vast upgrade from the Scars of Mirrodin pre-release. In the first set, 5 of the two-color centric guilds would be featured. Each player chooses a guild, and you get a box with five standard booster packs, a special guild-specific booster pack, a guild-specific promo card (which, for the first time ever, you get to actually use in the draft), a spin-down counter (so you don’t have to buy a fat pack for it), and a neat little card with an introduction to your guild (in story setting, which is always a nice touch in my opinion).
The first obvious improvement is the guild-specific booster pack. By choosing an allegiance, you’re guaranteed 15 cards that are designed solely for you. This guarantees that you’ll be able to construct a deck consisting of the guild of your choice. Plus, with 5 random booster packs, you can easily get more cards for your guild, or enough good cards of another guild to splash in a third color.Within this guild booster is also your promo card. This means everyone starts off with a quality, powerful rare of their guild (which by the way doesn’t count as your rare for the booster). This means that even if all of the other cards you draft are mediocre, or not of your guild, you still get a strong card for your deck.
Obviously, a lot of what Wizards of the Coast was able to accomplish with this pre-release revolves around its setting. With the ten guilds of Ravnica, it’s easy to give players variety with their choice of guilds. But the extra efforts to make sure you get to play the guild you want, along with the use of your guild promo, really went a long way. Having played several Return to Ravnica pre-releases, I didn’t see any guild that was particularly stronger or weaker than others. There were still some that had a more competitive edge over others, but I didn’t see any particular guild that would sweep their matches. With the announcement that the next expansion, Gatecrash will bring us the remaining 5 guilds, you can expect the same format in January.
And since my five favorite guilds are coming out in January, I’ll be saving my Christmas money and stocking up on energy drinks for several more enjoyable pre-release events.
Joe Bouchard is a regular contributor to the site
and can be reached at email@example.com.