The Interblock Synergy of Ravnica and Theros

ATF - Theros - Anax and CymedeWay back in the first “Sate of Design”, Mark Rosewater talked about interblock design. To the quote machine:

Not only will the designers have to design between sets, they will have to design between blocks. We’re getting an earlier jump on future blocks to make sure that the designers know where we are going and allow them the ability to set up the next block.

The first time this was truly implemented was our previous trip to Ravnica and I thought that it was important to take a look at what we’ve got so far.

But what does interblock synergy really mean? Before Ravnica (Part 1), the most powerful Standard decks tended to be block decks with very few cards from outside those three sets. This was fine for testing because it gave you a deck to run through your gauntlet. Examples include Affinity in Mirrodin and Goblin Bidding in Onslaught. Both of those decks didn’t really rely on too many cards that weren’t from their respective blocks.

This made Standard pretty boring (But remember, this is was still coming off the heels of Affinity however the basic concept is there). This also led to not tying into the surrounding blocks in general and have each one fend for itself.

Ravnica changed all of this.

The major themes of Kamigawa block were Legendary and Spirits along with Spiritcraft, and Arcane for keywords. Now Arcane still hasn’t been seen outside of Kamigawa so Ravnica could play along with two things that connected to the preceding block. Let’s compare that with how Mirrodin connects with Kamigawa.

Ravnica Block Mirrodin Block
Legendary Permanents 20 10
Spirits 34 3

Obviously this was a huge change. Blocks need to connect with the one before and the one after to make this a more cohesive game. Here’s how Innistrad and Return to Ravnica block interact with each other:

Innistrad Block Return to
Ravnica Block
Mentions of Token 51 59
Human creatures 112 73
Mentions of +1/+1 Counter 63 70
Vampire creatures 31 7
Dies 57 15
Spirit creatures 40 9
Multicolor cards 18 249

And that’s just a quick magiccards.info search, which should place the multicolor higher with the off-color Flashback and the rare two color activated lands. Sacrifice in Return to Ravnica block (20) is another addition to helping out Morbid (dies) as well.

Let’s take a look at what we know with the mechanics known so far for Theros and how they interact between blocks. Obviously we won’t know the full “backwards compatibility” that Theros has built in, but we can see some of it now.

Monstrosity

I talked about this last time so there isn’t too much to add here. I mentioned +1/+1 counters above and since most blocks have them it seems a little odd to bring it up, right? Well, it’s important here because there are three blocks in a row where +1/+1 counters revolved around a mechanic: Undying in Innistrad block, the guild ones in Return to Ravnica Block and now Monstrosity in Theros. +1/+1 Counters are common enough in Magic that it doesn’t need anything special to tie them together however blocks with mechanics based are them are special. Don’t be surprised to see something like Scavange get together with Monstrosity.

Heoric

Again, I just mentioned this last time though it looks like Heroic only triggers if it gets targeted by you, which is a mistake I assumed. Heroic just requires spells (and auras), this is a keyword that doesn’t need much help (Yes, even Overload doesn’t do much here). All it depends on is having spells that target your own stuff rather than opponents. That’s all that matters here.

Bestow

Here’s one of the new keywords. If you haven’t read it, here’s the basic text:

Bestow [Cost]: (If you cast this card for its bestow cost, it’s an Aura spell with enchant creature. It becomes a creature again if it’s not attached to a creature.)

Basically, if you pay the Bestow cost it acts like an Enchantment – Aura (Enchant Creature). If it falls off, you get a creature (As well as if the creature you were going to enchant gets killed, you get the creature). Of course you need creatures here, but the key thing about this is that I’m speculating here that all of these creatures are also enchantments. We’ll get to that some other time but there were a few things in Return to Ravnica block that could take advantage of enchantments:

  • Ethereal Armor
  • Rust Scarab
  • Sphere of Safety
  • Treasury Thrull

Now this isn’t a whole lot because there usually isn’t enough Standard worhty enchantments ┬áto give them help, but Return to Ravnica Block did have a small aura theme. This give the idea of playing auras a leg up.

Devotion

And finally this keyword ended up being a “fixed” Chroma. All we have to go on right now is that it checks to see how many mana symbols of a certain color you have on the battlefield. If you have out only a Black Knight, you have a Devotion to Black of 2 (since its mana cost is BB). So how does this work in a set full of multi-color when it seems like it should favor mono-color instead?

Hybrid mana.

Boros Reckoner has a Devotion to Red and White of 3. This allows you to “splash” other colors and give you the opportunity to try out different things. Because Devotion can be spread out in so many ways, it’s hard to really speculate what you can do with it. The mechanic is so flexible because you can push larger effects later on in the game state while not disrupting the early game. You can:

  • Make spells cheaper (CARDNAME costs 1 less for each Devotion to Red you have)
  • Change Power/Toughness
  • Change variable numbers (damage dealt, tokens created)
  • Turn on/off static/triggered/activated effects
  • A bonus “kicker” if you have so many in play (Draw a card. If you have Devotion to Blue 6, draw three instead)

Much like Monstrosity, you can create two different versions of the card. I’m sure that each color will have their own special take on the ability, but this is something that can easily be used for anything.

Because Return to Ravnica was all about multi-color, it makes sense to have a mechanic that fits with what colors you have on the table in the next block. This won’t shut down multi-colored decks, but the powerful ones will remain powerful.

Here’s the key though: not every new mechanic in a block has to be supported by the surrounding ones. Double-faced cards received no support from Scars of Mirrodin nor Return to Ravnica block. You don’t have to completely be a slave to the other block themes or ideas, you just have to help support it when you can. The Zendikar block had Stoneforge Mystic and the Eldrazi cards for Scars of Mirrodin, not entire mechanics that made those blocks work together. Proliferate was great with Quests, but they weren’t dependent on each other.

If you’ve been playing for a while you can tell there’s been a huge conscious effort to make the blocks better at working together. There wasn’t much foreshadowing inside Return to Ravnica that people could predict what Theros was going to bring. Ten years ago this would mean that it could be anything. Now, we can start to pick up the pieces of where Return to Ravnica and Theros meet.

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One thought on “The Interblock Synergy of Ravnica and Theros

  1. It’s important to look at each year’s Core Set as a “bridge” between the blocks as well. M11 and M12 had support for an artifact theme, M12 supported Tribal with Adaptive Automaton and had some graveyard support, M13 had its “Kird Ape” cycle and Farseek leading into Ravnica, and M14 seeded enchantment support.

    Another huge thing to keep in mind, in terms of prediction and speculation: In modern design, every block *will* tie into the following block in some way. Sometimes it’s more subtle, other times more obvious, but it’s always there. Even before you know anything else about the next year’s block, you know that *something* about it is hidden away in the present.

    And the best cross-block plants don’t just stick out like sore thumbs but are hidden in plain sight, acting as a natural part of both environments. When all we knew about Innistrad was its name, I was looking suspiciously at the creature sacrifice subtheme in the Phyrexian faction, especially when Visions of Beyond showed up in M12. Theros’s enchantment theme wasn’t much of a surprise to a lot of people who suspected Return to Ravnica’s enchantment subtheme was more than just an homage to Ravnica’s Aura theme. Blightcaster, Ajani’s Chosen, and Oath of the Ancient Wood helped confirm that suspicion. These things are very obvious in hindsight, but you can apply the lessons of the past and look for the same patterns.

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