Magic History: Return to Ravnica

Magic Untapped takes a look back at the set Return to Ravnica.

After 30 years of Magic: The Gathering, it's nice to look back at older sets to reminisce and see just how much the game has changed over the years.

In this video, we look back at Return to Ravnica, the first set in Magic: The Gathering's aptly named Return to Ravnica block.

Check it out:

Video Transcript:

Magic: The Gathering returned to the plane of Ravnica for the first time in seven years with Return to Ravnica, the collectible card game’s 59th expansion.

The set, which came out in October of 2012, kicks of the Return to Ravnica block, which includes two large sets: this one and Gatecrash, as well as a final smaller set: Dragon’s Maze.

As was the case with the original Ravnica block, Return to Ravnica focuses on two-colored guilds with five of the plane’s ten guilds – the Azorius Senate, Golgari Swarm, Izzet League, Cult of Rakdos, and Selesnya Conclave – being featured in the set.

<MARODTW-RTR 5:13-29 “So the idea was…in it.”>

The story of the Return to Ravnica block, which takes place after the events of Dissension and the destruction of the guildpact – the magical pact on which Ravnican society was founded – was told through a series of e-books and short stories found on the Wizards of the Coast website.

And, of course, here is our summary of it all…

Years after the destruction of the magical guildpact that held the peace on the plane-spanning city-state of Ravnica, a new, non-magical agreement between its ten guilds was made in its place.  Unfortunately, without the magical guarantee that supported the former guildpact, many Ravnicans began to abandon the guilds.  Those who remained saw opportunities to seize power and reshape the guilds in a manner that suited them as the guilds each saw shifts in leadership, focus, and intensity.

The Azorius Senate, for example, began an overzealous crackdown campaign against Ravnica’s undercity, leading to the arrest and imprisonment of many of the Golgari.  This included a gorgan named Vraska.  During a prison riot, Vraska was used as a weapon by her own people as she was forced to kill a number of the prison’s guards until she was overwhelmed and beaten without quarter until her planeswalker spark ignited, spiriting her away complete with a grudge against the guild system that she felt wronged her.

Meanwhile, the telepathic planeswalker, Jace Beleren, had been wandering aimlessly around the multiverse.  Eventually, he found himself back on Ravnica where he, at one time, was part of an underground organization known as the Infinite Consortium.  In his absence, the Consortium had collapsed, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.

While resigned to be satisfied to blend in with Ravnica’s faceless masses, the planeswalker couldn’t help but notice curious symbols and patterns appearing around the city-state’s tenth district.  Pretty soon, he found himself interested in learning more.

Jace locked himself in his sanctum.  With the assistance of his archivist, Kavin, he feverishly studying the symbols and patterns as he tries to discern their meaning.  After a while, he was visited by Emmara, a high-ranking priestess in the Selesnya Conclave.  The two chat and she gifts him a small wooden pendant and offers him a place within the Conclave.  Jace refuses the offer, but she still asks for his assistance anyway as these strange occurrences he’s been studying have also attracted the attention of the underhanded House Dimir.

A number of days later, Jace secretly tracks Ral Zarek, the Izzet League’s chief researcher, out of the tenth district and up to the Izzet Guildgate.  Shockingly, he sees that none other than Niv-Mizzet, the draconic head of the Izzet League, was there waiting for Ral and his assistants.

Not wanting such an opportunity to slip through his fingers, the telepathic planeswalker makes a mental connection with Niv in order to pry his mind for answers.  While Jace found the answers he was looking for, he also attracted the attention of the dragon.

Later, back at the sanctum, Kavin was less that thrilled about what Jace had learned.  The vedelken insisted that they walk away from the endeavor.  Reluctantly, Jace agreed and went as far as to have his sanctum destroyed and self-erase the memories of six months worth of work on the project.

In the meantime, though, the Cult of Rakdos abducted his Selesnyan friend, Emmara.  As soon as Jace learned of this, he set off in search of her.

Unfortunately for Jace, the Azorius Senate had other plans for him.

Doing his best to evade apprehension by Azorius arresters, whom were tasked with bringing Jace in for questioning about a burnt-down building he owns, the telepath tries to piece together what had become of Emmara.  His only clue, at this point, was a small item that leads him to the direction of a Rakdos nightclub whereupon he has a rather unpleasant encounter with a blood witch known as Exava from whom he telepathically steals information about a location he should check out.

Jace manages to escape from the Rakdos Cult’s clutches and makes his way to the Golgari controlled parts of District Ten.  There, in the sewers, he finds her surprisingly safe and sound – the elf having already made her escape from her capturers.  It’s here that the newly reunited pair are ambushed by Varolz, a fierce troll warrior of the Golgari Swarm.  The ambush fails, however, thanks to Emmara’s mastery of elemental magic, though it did attract the attention of Mirko Vosk, a high-ranking member of House Dimir, who had a keen interested in both Jace and Emmara.

The vampire strikes.

Emmara is gravely wounded and Jace, too, is attacked.  Though, his memories of his one-time investigation into the odd occurrences in Ravnica’s tenth district erased, he’s confused as to why the Dimir vampire is attacking them.  Learning this frustrates the vampire who feels his efforts have been foiled.  He departs, leaving Jace and Emmara to tend to their wounds.

After the attack, the pair head to the Selesnyan home base of Vitu-Ghazi.  Emmara was welcomed back warmly, but Jace was treated rather coldly.  The telepathic planeswalker is introduced by Emmara to her lover, Captain Calomir, which took Jace by surprise as he had no idea Emmara had such a relation.

In Emmara’s absence and due to her abduction, the Selesyans were on edge and soldiers were seemingly everywhere.  Feeling a bit unsettled by this static hostility, Jace tries to mentally connect with Calomir but finds unable to read the man and considers that Calomir might not be the person he claims to be.

This suggestion was ill-received by the Selesnyans and Jace was quickly thrown out of Selesnyan territory.

Now wandering around the streets of Ravnica alone, Jace can’t seem to shake the feeling that Emmara was still in some sort of danger.  Feeling out of other options, the planeswalker decides to seek help from Lavinia, the Azorius lawmage who had been tasked with his arrest with the hope of exchanging what knowledge he has of what the Dimir have been planning for whatever the Azorius knew of his missing memories surrounding District Ten.

Lavinia, however, was not exactly in the giving mood, leaving the telepath with a single lead: the Gruul ogre he had hired to destroy his sanctum: Ruric Thar.

Jace tracks the two-headed ogre down and, while trying to discover whatever they knew about the secrets he had uncovered, unintentionally challenged them to a duel instead.  During the fight, Jace found much difficulty trying to use his magic against them.  So, instead, the telepath channeled the minds of Ruric Thar’s own warriors against him, eventually emerging victorious.  This delighted Ruric Thar, who then allowed the telepath to scan their mind for clues or knowledge that may assist him.

Just as the telepath finishes scanning Ruric Thar’s thoughts and memories, a group of Rakdos rioters arrived led by Exava, whom had been tracking Jace since shortly after the incident at the nightclub.  Ruric Thar and his Gruul warriors put themselves between Jace and the rioters and told him to flee.

Jace, not wanting the Gruul to sacrifice themselves for him, summoned an enormous illusion of the demon Rakdos himself and commanded the rioters back to their territory.

This infuriated Exava, but even she could not overcome the awe of seeing the guild’s patron before her and began to lead a retreat.  As they began to depart, however, they were greeting with a contingent of Selesnyan soldiers.  This unexpected turn of events was enough to break Jace’s concentration and the illusionary Rakdos dissipated.  Exava, again, went on the offensive and was able to corner the telepath.

The riot, however, came to an abrupt end as Niv-Mizzet’s voice bellowed a district-wide announcement that caught everybody’s attention.  In the announcement, Niv divulged every little bit of information about the secret goings-on in District Ten and about the existence of the “Implicit Maze” – all information that Jace had been trying so hard to recover.  Niv then announces that there will a race through the maze and that each guild should send their champion to participate.

The announcement now over, Exava turned her attention back to Jace.  Just as she was about to commit him to a life of torture, however, the telepath is saved in the nick of time by an unlikely ally: Lazav, guildmaster of House Dimir.

Lazav takes Jace down into the Ravnican undercity, explaining many of his plans before handing him over for interrogation by Mirko Vosk – the same vampire that had attacked he and Emmara days earlier.  Finding himself imprisoned in Duskmantle and seeing little choice otherwise, Jace planeswalks away.  But not before telepathically reaching out to Emmara and sharing the location of the Implicit Maze with her.

It’s information that Mirko Vosk, whom has his own mental abilities, is able to hijack.

Jace awakens on Zendikar.  He considers simply leaving it all behind, abandoning Ravnica for good.  He soon encounters a kor family and, upon seeing them, becomes determined to help Emmara and heads back to Ravnica.

Upon returning, Jace first visits the Forum of Azor, which lays at the endpoint of the maze.  There, he meets the Baliff, a magical being made of pure law and bound for eternity to the Forum.

Baliff tells Jace that he is the executor of Azor’s judgment and informs him that, if the guilds complete the trial, a new guildpact would be actualized.  If they don’t complete the trial or are deemed otherwise unworthy, he would deliver the Supreme Verdict of Azor.

Now with new questions about the maze, Jace tracks down Lavinia.  He eavesdrops as she meets with Isperia, the Azorius guildmaster, as well as a disguised Lazav.  They were discussing Azor’s Supreme Verdict.

According to Isperia, the Verdict is an all-powerful spell that would destroy all those who are considered to be guilty and that the Verdict could be what awaits at the end of the maze.  Upon learning this, Jace became even more determined.

He then ventures to the Transguild Promenade for the starting ceremonies.  There, he reconnects with Emmara and fills her in on what he knows.

Just as soon as the maze begins, chaos ensues.  Together, Jace and Emmara manage to make their way through the Selesnya and Golgari gates.  At the Azorius gate, however, things don’t go nearly so smooth.

There, Lavinia arrests Jace on a long-outstanding warrant.  A special trial swiftly takes place with Isperia acting as judge.  Jace explains all that he had discovered about the maze and how he intends to help.  He also pleads guilty to all counts, if nothing else to move the trial along as quickly as possible.

His sentencing was simple: Community service by way of helping the guild champions complete the maze.

He then attempts to reunite with Emmara, passing through the Dimir and Orzhov gates along the way.  There, he finds her locked in combat with the Orzhov champion, Teysa Karlov.  Jace manipulates Teysa’s servants to attack on another, but things didn’t quite go to plan as they instead attacked Teysa.  The Orzhov Envoy lashes back at them, destroying them.

Jace and Emmara proceed to the Simic and Izzet gates, leaving Teysa behind.

Ral Zarek, however, is waiting for Jace at the Izzet gate.

He forces Jace to reveal his real identity to Emmara as she had no idea that, like him, her close friend had been a planeswalker all this time.

Feeling betrayed, Emmara loses trust in the telepath and she passes through the Izzet gate alone.  Ral, however, has no plans to allow Jace to follow.

The two battle and Jace is facing near defeat as Ral unleashes his full might on the rival planeswalker.  Were it not for the quick use of an illusion to lure the Izzet planeswalker away, Jace would have certainly met his end.

Finally (and a bit worse for wear), Jace reaches the Forum of Azor where he found all ten of the maze-runners fighting one another.  Jace manages to stop the fray, but Lazav appears and manipulates the champions into resuming the brawl.

That’s right about when the Baliff makes his appearance.  Upon seeing the chaos before him, he decides to lay down the Supreme Verdict of Azor, which was to provide to each maze-runner the ability to execute it.

Sensing the situation, Jace uses his telepathic skills to merge their minds.  While this allowed each of the ten to see one another’s thoughts, it was also unraveling Jace’s own mind in the process.

Fortunately for Jace, the Bailiff sees his efforts and assists him with his burden.  He declares that Jace is the new Guildpact and will be the mediator who could understand the perspectives of each guild.

Days later, Jace met with Emmara.  As a gesture of gratitude, she gives him a kiss before asking him to erase all memories she has about other worlds and about planeswalkers as she could not share such information with her guild and, in order to do her duty, she could keep no secrets from them, either.

Jace, regrettably, grants her request.

Thus ends the story of the Return to Ravnica block, but there’s still plenty to say about the Return to Ravnica set before we’re through.

The 274-card set, which had design led by Ken Nagle and development led by Erik Lauer, and (as you may have noticed) continues the very popular theme of guilds and guild-specific abilities that originated in the original Ravnica block.

As such, each bi-colored guild has its own keyword or ability and theme.

First up, Rakdos…

<MARODTW-RTR 15:53-16:21 “Rakdos is black-red…comes at a cost.” 17:36-55 “What we ended up…opt into that.”>

Next, Selesnya…

<MARODTW-RTR 18:40-54 “They’re the guild…played in there.”  20:05-52 “Populate says…best token was.”>

As for Izzet…

<MARODTW-RTR 21:03-35 “Izzet had the…red is number two.”  22:34-36 “Overload is their mechanic.”  22:57-23:24 “Overloads says…it for Izzet.”>

Then, Golgari…

<MARODTW-RTR 24:34-24:17 “We knew we wanted it…creatures you have.”>

And, finally, Azorius:

<MARODTW-RTR 11:16-12:20 “I think the first thing…was the original mechanic.”  13:10-14 “But it just wasn’t blending well.”  14:04-25 “We tried a couple…use activated abilities.”  14:50-15:10“It was a neat way…how to use it.”>

But were these new guild mechanics popular at all?

<MARODTW-RTR 26:14-28 “I know some of these…pretty solid mechanics.”>

Return to Ravnica also introduced one other new thing to the game of Magic: The Gathering: The Gate subtype, which is found on the block’s mega-cycle of tapped dual-colored lands at common.

<MARODTW-RTR 28:25-29:00 “We went to…a little special something.”>

Return to Ravnica was sold in 16-card booster packs, six-card booster packs, five intro packs, two event decks, a fat pack, and a two-player Booster Battle Pack that contained two semi-randomized 22-card decks, two booster packs, a play guide, and a rules insert.

To fit Ravnica’s guild theme, each guild had their own special prerelease kits, effectively allowing prerelease participants to choose which guild they wanted to represent.  Each kit contains five Return to Ravnica booster packs along with a sixth guild-specific pack seeded with a guild-specific prerelease promo along with cards specific to that guild that players can use in their deck.  Also included was a guild-specific sticker, an acceptance letter from their guildmaster, and a spindown life counter die.

As for which foil, alternate-art promo card came with each respective guild-aligned prerelease kit, Azorius had Archon of the Triumvirate, Izzet got Hypersonic Dragon, a Carnival Hellsteed came in Rakdos, Corpsejack Menace for Golgari, and Selesnya players got a Grove of the Guardian.

Other alternate-art promos for Return to Ravnica are:
•    A full-art Dryad Militant for game day participants along with a foil, full-art Cryptborn Horror for top eight finishers;
•    A Deadbridge Goliath for release day Friday Night Magic;
•    A special Return to Ravnica League Knight creature token, and;
•    Supreme Verdict as a buy-a-box promo.

Those promos, of course, aren’t the only cards worth mentioning as Return to Ravnica had a number of pretty decent ones both new and reprints, such as:
•    Shocklands Blood Crypt, Hallowed Fountain, Overgrown Tomb, Steam Vents, and Temple Garden;
•    Azor’s Elocutors, an interesting alternate win card;
•    Cyclonic Rift, a tide-turning card that has proven to be very popular and powerful in Commander;
•    Deathrite Shaman, a very strong one-drop creature with three effective and useful abilities that proved extremely powerful in a number of formats.  The card would wind up becoming banned in Modern in February of 2014 and received the same treatment in Legacy in July of 2018;
•    Judge’s Familiar, a one-drop flying creature that still sometimes sees play in control builds, and;
•    Pithing Needle, a reprint originally from Champions of Kamigawa that is a great sideboard card.

Furthermore, Return to Ravnica includes two cycles and two mirrored pairs:
•    A cycle of land auras, each of which granting its enchanted land with an activated ability, a triggered ability, or an ability that allows it to untap itself;
•    A cycle of uncounterable spells: Supreme Verdict, Slaughter Games, Loxodon Smiter, Counterflux, and Abrupt Decay;
•    The mirrored pair of Downsize and Dynacharge, each casting one mana with an overload cost at three mana.  Downsize shrinks opponents’ creatures whereas Dynacharge pumps yours, and;
•    Mirrored pair Chemister’s Trick and Teleportal.  Each have a casting cost of UB and an overload cost of 3UB, the former surinks opponents’ creatures until end of turn and forces them to attack, whereas the latter pumps yours and makes them unblockable until end of turn.

In the end, what are Mark Rosewater’s final thoughts on Return to Ravnica?

<MARODTW-RTR 29:14-20 “Return to Ravnica…to work on.”  29:27-41 “I thought our team…a positive thing.”>

So, what are your thoughts on Return to Ravnica?  Is it one of your preferred Magic: The Gathering sets?  Let us know your thoughts in the comment section.

And if you like videos like this, please hit that like button and remember to subscribe to Magic Untapped.  Also, we have a tip jar on Patreon if you are feeling so generous.

Thank you for watching.

Barry White

Barry White is a longtime Magic: The Gathering player, having started in 1994 shortly before the release of 'Fallen Empires.' After graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno, he went on to a 15-year journalism career as a writer, reporter, and videographer for three different ABC affiliate newsrooms.