Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Me, Myself and Vorthos - Original Return to Ravnica Flavor

Hello readers!  Today, I wanted to do something a little out of the ordinary.  No decks, no strategies, no cards...just flavor.

We all know that Return to Ravnica releases in just a few short weeks, and the buzz surrounding it is the largest I’ve ever seen.  People are excited about the possibility of cool cards, endless interactions and combinations, and a wide-open field in Standard with a deep, robust Limited environment to boot.  As I said a couple weeks ago, I am among those that remain super pumped about the new set.  I’m going to draft the crap out of it, I’ll tell you that.

Ravnica was the first set I played.  I bought my first deck at a game shop in Edinburgh, Scotland in January 2006; the Dimir Starter.  It came with some neat cards like Circu, Dimir Lobotomist, Psychic Drain and Consult the Necrosages.  I remember flipping through the deck, noticing that some of the cards had different colored symbols of a tower on one side and trying to think of why that mattered to the game.  As I played more and learned more about the game, my interest in the ethos of Ravnica grew.  I even bought a novel and promptly put it down a chapter later, as the writing was very much not my style.  We’ll get to that in a second, though.

I’m also a D&D player (more accurately, a DM) and I love to create my own campaigns and my own worlds.  Sure, I’ll use the basics of the game and try to capture and utilize the countless hours the designers put into the creatures, items and classes.  Still, it’s much more fun for me to live on a tangent, creating my own dungeons, adventures and experiences.

Ever since Ravnica came out, I’ve used the art, mechanics and flavor of the cards, rather than the story, to help internally craft the city-plane in my head.  Combining a seemingly infinite urban landscape with the five colors of mana and the interaction that ten guilds, each with their own unique identity, have with one another is what makes Ravnica live and breathe to me.  Sure, there are named players, like Niv-Mizzet, Agrus Kos and Rakdos, but they embody ideals more than actual characters to me. 

I’d like to whet your appetite for the flavor that oozes from Ravnica through the years, from the block itself to Ravnica-based cards from other sets to put you deep into the ecumenopolis of Ravnica.

I’ll go guild by guild and provide a sensational description of a likely event within each, sporting art intended to depict each guild’s part of the city.  I’ll be posting five this week and five in the spring, in accordance with their place in Return to Ravnica and the “Guildpact” of the block, Gatecrash, respectively.


Azorius, the relentless enforcer of peace, order and temperance.  The towering buildings around you are monuments to the status quo, crafted for a specific purpose and attempting endlessly and tirelessly to fulfill it. 

The thoroughfares on which you tread are carefully maintained, swept every day by silent, meticulous workers plying fine brooms to smooth flagstone and marble.  Wealth and power surround you, apparent in the grandiose garments of barristers, judges and librarians who glide by.  Each person you pass does not avert their gaze, certain of their path. 

The burden of millennia of law have squeezed the populace into a palpable, but acceptable servitude to its statutes.  This day passes much like yesterday, and next week will certainly look much like this week.  The only thing to distinguish the year is a calendar; change is spurned like a sickly dog, unwelcome to even the most sympathetic of Azorius’ citizens. 

The towering Spires of Order act as an indomitable reminder that your freedom is an illusion where libraries of law weave the trompe l’oeil.  The wind does not blow here, though no citizen might consider it is due to the impressive structures which encapsulate them.  Rather, they assume that the arbiters have instructed the wind to stop, lest it disturb the monotony. 

The air is crisp and cool in the morning with the slightest pinch of dew; it smells of freshly pressed paper, ink and stone.  Griffins soar overhead noiselessly, trained to keep their squawking at bay.  Even a knight, proud and unerring, clad in glittering armor trailed by a flowing azure cape, controls his steed masterfully, whose hooves seem to hover above the ground.

Through the streets, a careful observer can catch the flicker of a deceased guildmate of Azorius; the spirits of those lost over centuries of war, judgment and service to the regulation of Ravnica.  Here, though, the spirits of the deceased are not so fortunate to be freed from the bonds of law.  Such codices transcend the border between life and death, and thus they continue their slavery beyond death.

The squeaking of wood on polished stone comes from around the corner, which itself is dominated by a towering buttressed residence.  The noise is approaching quickly, and you can see those around the corner glance at the origin of the sound, stepping aside, their garment color and movement that of a frothy sea.  A company of four, reined pure-white horses drawn two abreast guide a carriage of clean, painted white wood.  The driver shifts slightly in his seat as he awaits his turn to cross the cobblestone intersection.  The horses stand perfectly still, ivory statues in an idyllic portrait.  The carriage is gourd-shaped, wide and curved at the bottom, and the door is completely solid except for a tiny window, barred with heavy, black iron. 

You cannot help but look at the window to see what appears on the other side.  Suddenly, rough, calloused hands caked in dirt wrap worked fingers around each bar.  A shadowy form, hunched and gnarled, appears beyond the bars.  A single harsh eye appears, wreathed in the face of an old, weathered man.  Scars and boils cover what little of his face you can see, but his eye…

His eye peers at you from a few yards away, but it feels as if its stare is breathing down your neck.  A single, bloodshot, emerald-colored eye.  It doesn’t waver, it doesn’t blink and it doesn’t stop.  He shouts out.

“Only one who’s lost his freedom will ever have the heart to seek it again.”

The weathered man’s left hand bears a tattoo; a flame surrounds a dull, calloused sphere.  He finally blinks and retreats into the caged car.  The street clears and the driver proceeds, his horses silently tapping on the hard stone.  No one else seems to have heard the old man’s adage as they continue to mill down the walkway, but you stand stunned.  You’ve forgotten where you were going, and you’re not sure if you care.



A half-full glass thunders off of your bedside table to the floor and shatters.  A sickening crack bisects your window.  The earth shakes for a moment, and the other furniture rocks back and forth on its legs, ejecting volumes of heavy books of spells and incantations from the shelf on the opposite wall.  The chandelier downstairs creaks on its rope as it sways like a burning pendulum, its light flickering as the candle flames dance.  A plate crashes off a table downstairs as everything wobbles to rest.

You sit up in bed, shocked and silent.  A drop of sweat falls from your brow, and you toss the covers aside, grabbing a robe from your bag and tossing it over your shoulders.  You battle down the stairs as others from the inn congregate in the foyer.  Peoples of all races converse in several languages, each uncertain of the cause of the thunderous racket. 

The congregation spills out of the inn onto the street.  It’s the middle of the night, as the glistening stars and slivered moon dictate, but there is a great light coming from up the street.  It flickers and swells like a massive bonfire.

The group of visitors walk up the street in their night garments, muttering amongst their fellow patrons.  Soon you arrive and find that nearly everyone in the vicinity has done the same thing. 

The roar of the fire is overwhelming, and your face burns with the dry heat of the flame.  One building, apparently a home, is burning furiously.  From within, enormous crackles and pops ring out, followed by tinkles of broken glass and surges in the mighty flame.  The chimney atop the building has been knocked askew, and matte black smoke bellows out of it, clouding the stars that glitter behind it.

Up the street, a frantic bell was ringing, barely audible over the hiss of the fire.  A trail of steam was coming up the cross street, visible only above the tops of the adjacent homes.  What could only be described as a steam-drawn carriage rounded the corner, its bell ringing louder and louder as the carriage approached.  The bell, actually quite small, sat atop the carriage.  The bellringer was a large shadow figure at first, but he came into focus as the carriage became bathed in the blaze’s glow.   Atop this carriage, a ten-foot tall ogre swung a small rope, sounding the bell and grinning, completely unaware of the chaos around him.  As the coach screeched to a stop, perhaps two dozen short, green goblins emerged from cracks and gaps in the contraption, squawking at each other angrily.  One collided with another, but after a moment of collection, the goblins lined up, each pulling a part of a snake-like tan tube with a tapered metal tip on one end.  The lead goblin aimed the tip up and screeched something.  He turned around, still gripping the tube and screeched again, as loud as he could, at the ogre atop the carriage. 

The ogre suddenly shook off his stupor and stood up, rocking the carriage, and grabbed a t-shaped handle before him.  He pushed down and pulled it up and pushed it down and pulled it up.  Water spewed out of the end of the tube, spraying wildly and powerfully, dislodging a few loose-gripped goblins.  Water continued to pour into the structure, and as the gush ran down to a trickle, the blaze became more and more manageable until it was just a smoldering husk of a home.  A final bang from within puffed a greenish cloud of smoke out the top. 

The ogre continued to pump until a goblin approached him and chided him with a slap on the ankle.  They all climbed back in, toppling over one another for the most comfortable seats.  One goblin muttered some inane word and waved his bony hands and the reservoir refilled with water.  The driving goblin pulled a lever with a ratcheting sound and steam poured out the top pipe, and the vehicle sputtered forward down the opposite street, leaving the crowd in the faint flicker of the still-warm cinders of the house.

An ornately and fantastically dressed human from the crowd saw something lying in the street and dashed out from the group to recover it.  He extended a mechanical grabbing tool to pick it up and he brought it back to show those with whom he was standing.  He conjured a ball of light in his hand and held up the object with his grabber.  It was a small, green hand clutching a smoking, spherical vial.  One of his neighbors touched the severed hand, and it twitched, causing him to exclaim and recoil.

“He did it!  HE DID IT!” the wizard said.  He released the hand on the street with a plop, and the vial smashed to bits.  His cohorts cheered and dispersed, and the rest of the crowd diffused away, too.  You hear snippets of blasé remarks, like “what a mess,” and “that flectomancer owed me eight shriveled newt livers…eight! 

You blink.  You knew what the odor of singed flesh and burnt hair smells like, but now you know the scent of invention.


There is one thing you feel: discomfort.

The stale, crusty scent of blood wafts across the cold stone of the subterranean chamber.  Goblins, brazen humans and even the zombified humans of decades past chant and scream around you.  You can’t hear yourself think, and perhaps that’s all the better; it’s best to not think about what’s happening. 

You are in an enormous underground cave a hundred feet tall and as wide as the grandest boulevards on the surface.  Enormous braziers crackle along the cavern walls, casting deep yellow-red light around the chamber.  Winged imps soar above you like twisted, macabre doves.

Thousands of creatures surround you, pressing up against you and jostling you with excitement.  A goblin puts his clawed foot on your face, attempting to crawl up and see what’s going on.  A fight has broken out several yards in front of you, and you’re buffeted back and forth like a reed as you see glimpses of the pugilists through the sea of bodies in front of you.  This was not the revelry and lust you were expecting tonight.

A loud drum sounds towards the front of the chamber, thundering through the caves in scores of echoes, and the din of the bloodthirsty crowd dwindles.  A female voice cries out from the front of the chamber.

“Kneel before the Defiler!”

A cacophony of scuffles and scrapes repeats through the room as the mob shifts down in a prone position, each attempting to beat his neighbor to the ground first.  You do the same, knowing not of whom she speaks.  You find your mouth is dry and cracked, as if smoke and fire fills your lungs.  The air is stifling and close.

The room falls eerily silent, and the chattering of rats can be heard echoing through the cave.  You risk leveling your head to see the cultist several dozen yards away.  She is holding a rounded stone aloft with the symbol of a fiery skull carved upon it.  She continues to do this for several moments and no one moves.  She sets the stone down and motions for everyone to sit.  You lean on your back hand and try to find a flat spot of rock to rest. 

“The Defiler has seen fit to allow us a sacrifice!”

The crowd erupts in thunderous cheers that all but shake the earth.  You can now see that behind her, a flat, stone table sits, bearing a human form on it.  The form is bound by its four limbs, but it does not struggle or protest.  The cultist goes behind the table and lifts up a wrapped object from underneath it.  The wrap is white and stained with dried, crimson blood.  She unsheathes the object and holds it aloft.  The faint light reflects a glimmer from the long, slender object.

“His Unholiness the Defiler has brought us to worship, and this shall be our instrument!”

The crowd shouted back.

The form on the table shouted out, revealing himself as a human by the tone of his voice, which was surprisingly even; “I gladly offer myself to the Defiler and His followers!”

The crowd shouted louder.

The cultist smacked the stone table with the object, and it sung with a strikingly attractive ringing sound, like a siren’s highest note.  Another glint in the brazier and the serrated kris the cultist held came into focus.

“Let us imbibe the glory of our master!”  The cultist brought the knife down hard, and she did not stop until the sound of metal and stone connecting resounded through the chamber.  The crowd cheered and like an unleashed wave, they all surged forward.  Humans, the undead and unknown horrors leapt onto the stone table, rending the sacrifice and consuming whole bits at a time.  Some skirmished as they flayed off pieces for themselves, and the revelry quickly turned into mortal carnage.  Fights concluded with more “sacrifices,” and their slain corpses were swarmed by the mob. 

Your jaw hangs open and, not caring who or what sees you, you turn tail and run towards the mouth of the cave as fast as your wobbling legs will take you.


Your boots make an unsettling “squish” with each step.

Although the elf was kind enough to give you a mask, you are certain it is not helping much at all; the smell of the rot that surrounds you is utterly nauseating.  As you get used to the prominent scent of putrid flesh and decaying fungi, another waft of some unfathomable origin drifts by, and you do your best to not retch.  Sometimes you succeed.

“Dig until we tell you to stop,” the elf says.  The elf is a spindly, slight creature with slender, grooved features and he bears an ancient branch as a staff.  Blotches and spots dot his skin, and you realize that the elf may be older than the stone that arches above you.  Sunlight peers in through tiny cracks in the ceiling, and you won’t even have that light for very long.  Best do what the elf says.

The spade he’s handed you is probably sufficient to turn a pailful of dirt per stroke, and he assumes you can move entire loamy mounds at once.  He stands by as you wade into the rot farm, where other poor souls like you have bent their backs for years more.  Around the outside of this heterogenous pile of rot, elves much like the one directing you stand in silence, overseeing the farm’s tilling.   

The sun sails along the cracks above you as each hour passes.  Your spade shoves aside mushy rot, compost and ooze.  Sweat dribbles down your neck and your face pulses with heat.  The smell is not so bad now, and the mask was making you hot, so you’ve cast it aside.  Your spade finds a firm pile of dirt with a “shink;” you turn it over and, beneath the roots and rotting brambles, you see something unusual…

You stop.  “I found…”

“Quickly, step back!” cries the elf.  Impulsively, you do so and trip, falling back into a wet, mossy puddle amongst the loam.  Your filthy clothes absorb the cool, gritty liquid almost instantly, and you are once again reminded of the sweetly rotting detritus.  Other elves from around the farm are wading through the mire to come to you.  The elf waves them all frantically over, and each crowd beside the fledgling plant.  They kneel in the muck, unphased, and recite an arcane scripture.  At first it is a whisper, then it is a chant, then it is a shout.  Everyone watches the elves, motionless.  The elf overseeing you reaches down and grabs a clod of dirt around the plant and holds it hard.  “Rise!”

Suddenly, from beneath the rot, an ogre-sized giant bursts through.  Moldy plants and vegetables fly everywhere, coating you in a soupy dredge.  Still, you look on. 

The giant creature is not made of flesh and blood, but of plants.  It has a head made of what appears to be bark, arms and legs made of grape vines and a trunk comprised of what appears to be a rose bush.  Where eyes would be on any such creature, red orbs glow brightly instead.

You access the old Elvish hidden in your mind from your schooling as you listen.  “We thank you for your life,” the elves seem to say.  The other elves beckon the creature along, and it leaves the rot farm with them, lumbering along like an upright elephant.

“Stop digging,” the elf tells you.  He extends his hand and lifts you with surprising virility, and you find your footing quickly in the dross.  He stands up straight, acquiring a regal pose while propping himself on his gnarled staff.  “Life, not death, is inevitable.”


As you place one foot in front of the other, you are constantly reminded how tall this place is.

Your hand runs along the soft wooden rail as you ascend each step.  Vitu-Ghazi is as old as the stars in the sky, and as your fingers pass over each burl, you feel the venerability of her boughs coursing through you. 

The wind flutters through the stairs as you curl around each bend.  It’s best not to look down, or you will quickly lose the will to do anything but curl into a ball.  No, your eyes continue looking up to your destination.  Descending the stairs in the other direction is a lovely, well-garbed dryad, armed, deadly and beautiful.  Her eyes find yours, and she greets you.  “The Conclave keep you, brother.”

You bow your head to her as you pass, puffing up your heaving chest with each step.  As she passes, you quickly wipe the sweat of the climb from your brow.

You emerge onto a beautiful, isolated terrace, rounded and suspended by the branches and vines of the City Tree.  A rail wreathes the terrace, crafted of perfectly filigreed metal and finely chiseled stone.  The view is spectacular, spanning dozens of miles in every direction.  One can see the towers of other guilds and the slums of those less fortunate, all well below the towering home of the Conclave.

You are not alone on the terrace, nor did you expect to be.  The terrace could accommodate a thousand, yet it bears a single equine figure, which at the moment faces away from you.  You walk onto the terrace and take a moment to ingest the view of the sprawl below.  You swallow and collect your voice in the back of your throat.  After a moment, you speak.


The centaur’s head turns, profiling the face of the being.  “My child.”

For a moment, you have completely forgotten the satchel that swings at your side.  Your hand dives into it absent-mindedly and locates a vellum scroll within.

“From the ruler of our order.”

A single seed falls from a branch above the terrace, which clacks on the stone. 

The centaur turns around and walks towards you.  A fit and healthy creature, he has long, mane-like hair that is filled with braids.  He has a sharp chin and golden eyes.  He smiles and extends his hand as he approaches.  He takes the scroll from you and unfurls it.  Its contents unknown to you, you watch his expression to decipher its contents. 

“You have been given an important missive, my child.”  He rolled the scroll up in a fluid motion.  “Tell her we shall convene in the morning.  I will need to consider her proposal.”

“Very well, teacher.”  You turn to leave.

“My child,” the centaur chides, “I have not dismissed you.”

Mortified at your social error, you swivel to attention.

“The Chorus has been watching your progress with great interest, as have I.”  He takes a step closer.  “You show great promise and dedication in every field of magic you pursue.”  His free hand comes to rest gently on your shoulder, filling you with expansive, lasting strength.  “I believe you can be an asset to your brethren and to the interests of Our cause.”

You bow, remaining silent out of both respect and surprise.

“Tell her,” the centaur said.  With a nod, he turned around and begin walking towards the edge of the terrace again.

You bow to his back, waiting to be dismissed.  He pauses for a moment, and turns his head back towards you.

“Meet us at the base of the City Tree tomorrow at dawn.  This will concern you, too.”

I hope each gave you a clear picture of what it would feel like to be a member of each guild or to see them in their everyday lives.  Each guild hates something and loves something else.  What guild represents you as a person, and which one represents your playing style best?  Are you reckless and hedonistic like the Cult of Rakdos, or are you team-oriented and focused like the Conclave of Selesnya?  Or perhaps your guild wasn’t mentioned today; perhaps you are inventive, progressive and open-minded like the Simic? 

After a brief review of a Standard deck I tried this week, we’ll be knee deep in Ravnica spoilers.  Once there, we will be discussing Ravnica spoilers and the top cards for Limited and Constructed.

Until next time, don’t forget to untap!