Wednesday, 24 November 2021 11:19

Magic History: Remembering 'Ravnica: City of Guilds' (ft. Mark Rosewater)

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Magic History: Remembering 'Ravnica: City of Guilds' (ft. Mark Rosewater) WOTC/MAGIC UNTAPPED

Sometimes it's nice to look back and see just how far things have come since the early days of Magic: The Gathering.  To that end, we're bringing you a series of short videos that highlight Magic: The Gathering expansions throughout the years.

In this video, we (along with special guest, MTG senior designer Mark Rosewater) take a look at Ravnica: City of Guilds, the first set in the original Ravnica block.

You can check it all out in our retrospective video (below).

Video transcript:

<MARO soundbite>

On October 7, 2004, one of the most influential blocks in the history of Magic: The Gathering would make its debut with the set Ravnica: City of Guilds.

The whole block takes place on its namesake plane-wide ecumenopolis, that is a city so large that it spans the entire globe.

Much of the power on Ravnica comes from the city-plane’s ten guilds, each of which symbolize a different color pair within the game of Magic.  Four of those guilds are highlighted in the debut Ravnica set as well as its similarly-named accompanying novel by Cory J. Herndon.

Before we get to talking about the set itself, here is a summary of the set’s story.

Agrus Kos, an officer with the Boros Legion, and his lieutenant, Myczil Zunich, are investigating a group of killers from the Cult of Rakdos – one of the ten guilds on the place-wide city of Ravnica.  Things go awry during the investigation and, in short, Zunich meets an untimely end.

Fast forward 57 years to the year 9999 on the Ravnica calendar and the entire plane-spanning city is gearing up for the decamillenial celebration of the signing of the Guildpact – an ancient and magical agreement between Ravnica’s guilds that set statutes and ordinances for each guild so that, in essence, they can all co-exist more-or-less peacefully.

Kos, however, has anything but a peaceful life since the Rakdos investigation nearly 60 years prior.  Now an old, bitter man who drinks too much, he has never come to terms with what happened to his fellow officer all those years ago, he begins to see what he thinks is a ghostly apparition of his long-since-deceased comrade.  While ghosts are a thing on Ravnica, they don’t tend to stick around very long unless they have a contract with the Orzhov Syndicatem which (as far as Kos knows) Zunich lacks.

At some point, now Lieutenant Kos, along with his current partner, Bell Borca, follows this familiar phantom into an alley where a Rakdos goblin had just slain a girl from the very same orphanage where Kos was raised.  He chases the murderous goblin to a nearby pub where, upon arrival, the goblin blows himself up, taking much of the establishment and a number of those on site along with him.  This includes the Lieutenant’s partner and a prominent person from the Selesnya Conclave known as Living Saint Bayul.

Kos awakens in a hospital whereupon he learns that Bayul’s bodyguard, whom is currently missing in action, was none other than Fonn Zunich, the daughter of his long-late partner.

Fonn, it seems, was not injured in the blast.  Indeed, she wasn’t even on site when it happened as she and her wolf mount, Biracazir, had been beforehand taken to a safehouse by a Golgari hunter named Jarad who had been sent to fetch her by his sister, the Golgari High Priestess, Savra.

Savra, however, only sent Jarad on this errand as a set up.  In league with an unknown third party, the Golgari priestess had planned to have both Bayul and Jarad slain in the blast.

This mysterious person then directs Savra to visit Svogothos, the Restless Tomb – the location where the Golgari parun (or leader), Svogthir, has been imprisoned ever since the Sisters of Stone Death ursurped his power a century prior.  Savra manages to free the imprisoned parun, doing her best to keep the powerful necromancer under her control.

Svogthir takes immediate revenge on the gorgon sisters for his dethroning, slaying two of them before the third and final surrenders.  The Golgari parun’s swift revenge complete, Savra then slays him and absorbs his power and status, thus becoming the guild’s new ruler.

Back with Argus Kos, the Boros lieutenant tries to leave the hospital and get back out in the field.  His superior officer, however, disagrees, pointing out that he might not survive the healing magics necessary for him to do so, citing Kos’ condition and advanced age.  The two get into a heated argument over the issue and, in the end, Kos is slapped with a suspension.

Soon after, the suspended lieutenant receives not one, but two ghastly visits – first from the ghost of Zunich, then from the recently departed Borca.  Borca, it seems, has an Orzhov contract allowing him to haunt Kos until his death has been avenged.

Borca reveals to his former and living partner that he was never at the pub where the explosion had occurred and was, instead, still in the alley where the orphan girl had been murdered and was actually slain there.

Kos is then visited by Feather, an angelic member of the Boros who, as punishment for an unspecified sort of insubordination, had her wings bound was forced to serve on foot amongst the guild’s rank-and-file Wojek soldiers.  She decides to assist Kos and provies him with the healing potions he needs to heal from his various wounds, then breaks him out of the hospital.

Meanwhile, back with the Golgari, Savra sends a handful of harpies to find and kill Jarad and Fonn.  Luckily, Jarad was ready as he’s had suspicions for some time now that his sister may act against him and the two defeat their attackers.

Fonn, however, is now wanted for questioning because of Bayul’s death, so she and Jarad team up to figure out exactly what is going on.  As they begin their investigation, however, they are attacked by more of the Golgari.  Upon their defeat, however, Jarad and Fonn discover that these Golgari zombies are nothing more than a bunch of shapeshifting worms…

The two simultaneous investigations – that of Kos and Feather as well as Jarad and Fonn – soon merge as both parties find themselves at an fighting arena/restaurant owned by an Orzhov imp known as Pilvic.  Seeing an interesting business opportunity, the imp sets Kos and Jarad up in a fight against a Rakdos informant.  Here’s it’s apparent that the Boros lieutenant is, at the very least, familiar with Jarad.

During the match, the informant spills some of the beans.  He informs them that the suicide bomber goblin who attacked the pub was a slave brought to him by entities known as Quietmen – ghostly servants of the Selesnyan guild.

Immediately after that juicy tidbit becomes known, the venue’s windows burst open and a good number of Quietmen flood into the establishment, causing chaos and killing a number of the patrons and employees there.

Kos, Feather, Jarad, Fonn, and Pilvic all escape together and venture back to the Wojek headquarters whereupon they get news that Bayul, the Selesnyan thought slain during the pub blast, is still alive, though in a state of inactivity.

Meanwhile, the Quietmen begin to herd some of Ravnica’s population towards Vitu-Ghazi, the seat of the Selesnya Conclave, as Golgari forces begin to take aggressive action against the Boros Legion in defiance with the nearly ten thousand year old Guildpact.

Soon after, Kos and his party meet up with a dying Bayul.  He informs them that there are only three non-dryads who make up the Chorus of the Conclave (the Selesnyan ruling body) and that he is one of those three.  He then tells them that the gem on his forehead is what connects the Chorus’ members together, but that he believes that Savra wanted to take his gem and connect herself in with the rest so that she may attempt a takeover of the Selesnya.

As he expires, he hands the gem over to Fonn.  Immediately thereafter, the Boros soldiers standing guard attack them.  As it turns out, they, too, are actually those worm-like shapeshifters and were posing as members of the Boros Legion.

Kos and crew manage their escape, but Fonn is soon after captured by Quietmen and taken to Vitu-Ghazi.  Kos removes the bonds holding down Feather’s wings and the angel flies off in pursuit.

It’s then discovered just how busy a person Savra has been.  Not only has she been slowly poisoning the roots of Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree, with necrotic filaments, but she has also been creating her own army of Quietmen by killing Ravnican citizens and turning them into ghost warriors, mixing her Quietmen in with those native to the Conclave.

Their tree suffering now beginning to suffer from an unknown-to-them ailment, the Chorus of the Conclave solicit for assistance.  Assistance that Savra is only too happy to provide in exchange for being able to join the Chorus once a position had opened up.

At Vitu-Ghazi and under the cover of the spectacle from the vast number of Quietmen stirring up trouble, the Golgari queen confronts Fonn, who is holding Bayul’s gem.  Savra rips off Fonn’s hand and takes the gem for herself.  She joins the Chorus and becomes connected to their collective consiousness.

Then the mysterious figure who has been in cahoots with Savra this whole time finally makes himself known.  Stepping out from the shadows, he reveals himself to be Szadek, leader of the Dimir – a secretive guild that many on the plane thought was nothing more than a myth.

He approaches Savra and praises her, calling her his liberator.  He then snaps her neck, killing her along with all of the dryads of the Chorus with whom she was now sharing a conciousness.

Szadek then takes control of the imposter Quietmen and has them tear a hole in the Vitu-Ghazi, revealing Mat’Selesnya, the Conclave’s parun who powers the magic of the Guildpact.  Ever the vampire, the Dimir leader begins to feed on her.

It’s about at this point that Kos, Jarad, and the rest arrive on scene.

Jarad grabs his late sister’s staff and uses its power to take control over Szadek’s worm-like shapeshifters (this includes the ghost-like apparitions of Zunich that Kos has been seeing lately).  He instructs the shapeshifters to attack Szadek and they do an extremely good job of things, nearly tearing the vampire to pieces.

Fonn, meanwhile, reclaims Bayul’s gem, placing it on Biracazir, the wolf injured in battle.

This new connection breathes new life into the Chorus as Mat’Selesnya begins to radiate with new energy.  An energy wave bursts from her, disintegrating the shapeshifters and frying what’s left of Szadek, leaving the vampire little more than a burnt skeleton.

Kos, ever the law enforcement officer, cuffs places the charred skeletal remains under arrest.

It’s now the next day.  The Boros are considering Szadek to have been “dealt with.”  Jarad has assumed control of the Golgari as its new guildmaster.  Bell Borca has moved on in death, his Orzhov contract satisfied now that his death has been avenged.

Kos retires.  He joins the imp, Pilvic, and moves to an area known as a “reclamation zone.”  Before he departs, however, he feels the obligation to inform Fonn exactly how her father (his late partner) perished some 57 years prior.

He tells her how the two of them were in pursuit of a Rakdos priestess, but that there was another also on her tail: a Golgari bounty hunter known as Jarad vod Savo.

Having tracked the priestess up to a rooftop, Zunich located her and went in for the attack.  Rather than slaying the priestess, however, the officer had instead killed an innocent girl whom Jarad was using as bait so that he may capture the priestess himself.

Guilt-ridden and enraged, Zunich then attacked Jarad with intent to kill.  Kos tried to intervene and, in the scuffle that followed, Zunich slipped, falling off of the roof and to his death.

Meanwhile, in one of Ravnica’s morgues, the coroner, Helligan, prepares to cremate the body of the little orphan girl who had been found slain in the alley near the pub a few days prior.  While Helligan’s attention was away from the corpse, it morphs into a worm-like entity, killing the coroner and taking his place and his face…

And that’s where the story ends.  Well, for now anyhow, but there’s still much more to tell about the set itself.

<MARO soundbite>

Ravnica: City of Guilds had an all-star lineup of designers and developers behind it.  On the design side, Mark Rosewater took lead of a team that included Mike Elliot, Aaron Foresythe, Tyler Bielman, and Magic creator Richard Garfield.  Development featured Brian Schneider as the lead and employed the talents of Mark Gottlieb, Henry Stern, Foresythe, and others.

<MARO soundbite>

Ravnica: City of Guilds was not the first Magic set to be created with an intense focus on multicolor themes.  That honor belongs to Invasion, which released four years prior.  With that in mind, Ravnica’s designers had to find a way to make this new set stand apart from those of the Invasion block.

<MARO soundbite>

Thankfully for Wizards, the Invasion block provided some “lessons learned” when it comes to creating multicolor-focused sets.

<MARO soundbite>

In the end, Ravnica set the standard for how such an endeavor should be executed from here on out.

The ten two-color guilds represented on Ravnica were split between the Ravnica block’s three sets with four – the militaristic R/W Boros <MARO soundbite>, shady U/B Dimir <MARO soundbite>, necromantic B/G Golgari <MARO soundbite>, and selfless G/W Selesnya <MARO soundbite> – being featured in City of Guilds with the outstanding six being split the two sets that followed.

With the debut of these two-color guilds came the introduction of a new thing known as hybrid mana symbols.  These symbols are circles that are halved diagonally with one mana color and miniature symbol on one half and a different one on the other.

These mana symbols mean that a mana of either color may be used towards casting the spell, such as with the uncommon creature Boros Guildmage having a red/white hybrid mana cost allowing the card to be played by paying two white, two red, or one of each color of mana.  In fact, all of the guildmage creatures in the set (as well as the block as a whole) feature hybrid mana along with a good number of other guild-affiliated cards throughout the block.

<MARO soundbite>

Each guild also had its own new keyword or ability word affiliated with it.  For Ravnica’s four guilds, that would be:

  • Radiance for the Boros Guild, which is an ability word that appears on spell s and abilities that affect every permanent that shares a color with the target permanent, such as with the card Rally the Righteousness allowing its caster to untap a target creature and each other creature that shares a color with it, granting those creatures a +2/+0 boost as well.
  • Convoke for Selesnya, which is an ability that allows players to tap their creatures to help pay the mana cost for specific spells. Autochthon Wurm, a 9/14 trampler that costs a whopping 10 plus three green and two white, for example, has convoke to help players cast it at a reduced cost.
  • Dredge for Golgari. Cards with dredge may be returned from the graveyard to their owner’s hand in exchange for the player skipping their draw phase and milling a certain number of cards from their own deck.  Grave-Shell Scarab, for instance, can be returned to its owner’s hand from the graveyard at a cost of Dredge 1, meaning that only one card needs to be milled in order to take advantage of the ability.  And;
  • Transmute for the U/B Dimir guild. With transmute, a player may pay the card’s transmute cost, discarding the card in the process, and look through their library for any card with the same mana cost as the discarded card.  The player then puts that card into their hand, revealing it to all players in the process.  Dimir Infiltrator, a two-costed creature, for example, can be transmuted to search one’s own library for any other card that costs two mana.

<MARO soundbite>

Typically, Magic sets have a wide variety of cycles.  That is, a collection of cards (typically spread amongst the colors) that all share a common theme or relationship.  With Ravnica: City of Guilds, not so much as the set only had two in the entire set:

  • Auras with come-into-play affects, such as Faith’s Fetters netting its caster four life when it enters the battlefield, and;
  • Hunted creatures, which all have a better-than-average power and toughness for their casting cost, but cause one or more token creatures to also come into play under an opponent’s control as a means of balancing the threat.

Despite the lack of self-contained cycles, Ravnica: City of Guilds did kick off a wide series of block-spanning 10-card mega-cycles.  This includes:

<MARO soundbite>

Before moving on to the set’s noteworthy new cards, there is a nice assortment of reprints that are included in Ravnica: City of Guilds that are worth a mention:

And Ravnica: City of Guilds was not lacking in terms of new, original cards that made an impact one way or another.

First off, of course, there are the set’s four shock lands: Overgrown Tomb, Sacred Foundry, Temple Garden, and Watery Grave.  All of these cards are must-includes for pretty much any deck that runs those colors in pretty much every format in which they’re legal.

There’s also the cards Life from the Loam, Stinkweed Imp, Golgari Thug, and Golgari Grave-Troll, which are all important cards for Dredge-based strategies.  And that final card, the Grave-Troll, has proven to be such a strong graveyard enabler that it was initially banned in Modern when the format was created only to be later unbanned before, two years later, being banned again for the exact reason it was banned in the first place.

Lightning Helix, a card that is essentially a Lightning Bolt and a Healing Salve stapled together, made its debut in the original Ravnica and is a must-include in many competitive boros burn decks.

Chord of Calling has proven to be a reliable and competitive creature tutor that has found popularity in Modern.

And yet another card that has found its way into many competitive Magic decks is the black card-drawing engine, Dark Confidant.  Nicknamed “Bob,” the card is actually designed by and bares the likeness of Robert “Bob” Maher, Jr. for him winning the 2003-04 Magic: The Gathering Invitational.

<MARO soundbite>

Other cards of note include:

As a prerelease promo, Wizards of the Coast gave out an alternate art Gleancrawler (a splashy card that never really saw all that much play in the grand scheme of things) and, as the set’s release promo, players were presented with a Dimir Guildmage, which feels like a bit of an odd choice seeing as it’s one in a cycle of guildmages.

And one final bit of trivia for you, the set Ravnica: City of Guilds wasn’t originally called that.  In fact, once it was out of codename status (the codenames for the block’s three sets, by the way, were “control,” “alt,” and “delete”), it was simply titled Ravnica.  The “City of Guilds” moniker was added fairly late on as to emphasize the set’s (and, really, the whole block’s) emphasis on the two-colored guilds.

Oddly enough, the decision was made while Rosewater and Brady Dommermuth (the person who came up with the idea of the guilds) were each independently on vacation, much to their chagrin upon their returns.

<MARO soundbite>

So, is Ravnica: City of Guilds amongst your favorite Magic: The Gathering sets?  If so, let us know your thoughts in the comment section here on YouTube.

Please subscribe to Magic Untapped on YouTube and pop a buck in our Patreon tip jar to support more great Magic: The Gathering content, and a huge shout-out to Mark Rosewater for taking part in this Magic History video.