'Guilds of Ravnica': A Q&A with 'Magic' designer Gavin Verhey

'Guilds of Ravnica': A Q&A with 'Magic' designer Gavin Verhey WOTC / JEDD CHEVRIER

Guilds of Ravnica, the 79th expansion to Wizards of the Coast's long-running Magic: The Gathering collectible card game, is due out Oct. 5 and brings players back to the very popular plane of Ravnica.  The setting of six previous sets, Ravnica is not only where the 264-card Guilds of Ravnica takes place, but will also play host to the two sets that are to follow.

GeekNifty recently had a chance to catch up with Magic: The Gathering designer/developer Gavin Verhey and ask a few questions about the set:

GeekNifty: How did the decision come to make Ravnica the setting for this new set and the two that follow it?

Gavin Verhey: Good question! There were two major things fueling this decision.

First is that Ravnica is one of the most beloved worlds in the entire history of Magic, and every time we’ve gone there players have loved it. Multicolored gameplay is always a lot of fun, and affiliating with a guild, having so many new mechanics, and returning to beloved characters are pieces of Ravnica we’ve all come to love. For experienced players who love Ravnica it’s going back to a place they love, and for newer players it’s a chance to experience it for the first time.

The second reason is that several years ago, we started setting up a multi-set story arc. Nicol Bolas has had whirring plans and machinations across the multiverse for a while… And it all culminates on Ravnica. And while I can’t spoil too much of the story yet, Bolas is definitely here for a reason – and that’s why we wanted to come back here.   

GN: Why did WotC choose the guilds it did for Guilds of Ravnica rather than the ones they're saving for the next set, Ravnica Allegiance?

GV: This being our third go-around at Ravnica, we wanted to organize the guilds in a different fashion than before to provide new texture and combinations to the familiar Ravnica world. Since Ravinia is built around two-color combinations and how they work well together, changing up that combination can make the format feel very different. Additionally, some guilds are aligned with Nicol Bolas – and we wanted to make sure to space out the guilds that were Bolas aligned and those which aren’t. 

GN: Leading up until the shocklands were revealed for Guilds of Ravnica, there was skepticism among players as to whether or not they would be reprinted in the set.  Was that ever in doubt internally at WotC or was their inclusion a guarantee from day one?

GV: It’s funny – when we first made the much-loved shocklands, we gave them generic names exactly so that we could re-purpose them on any world we wanted to. And, yet, we always come back to them with Ravnica. Part of the fun of playing with Ravnica is having great manabases and these lands are a huge part of that. We did experiment with putting them in other sets, such as Dominaria, but eventually settled on that they just felt so at home on Ravnica we would put them there. Will we see them again the next time we go to Ravnica? Only time will tell…

GN: Why did WotC choose the reprints they did for Guilds of Ravnica rather than others?

GV: With any set, we try and pepper in a few reprints – and with such a storied world like Ravnica, there were a ton of great options. I’m very happy we were able to slide in a couple fun reprints like Wee Dragonauts and Skyknight Legionnaire, as well as ones that players have been clamoring for like the shocklands and Chromatic Lantern. We looked at a wide range of old favorites and settled on these ones. Ravnica Allegiance, by the way, is no exception either – I’ll say that there’s at least one beloved reprint card, which isn’t a rare, that showed up in a prior Ravnica set and is making a comeback here. Start your speculation now! 

GN: What's your favorite of the new mechanics?

GV: For me, it’s mentor. While normally I’m more of a control player, mentor just feels so wonderfully Boros. Plus, it inspires some neat gameplay of pumping up your mentor to allow it to target creatures it normally couldn’t.

GN: Which of the new mechanics proved to be the biggest challenge for R&D?

GV: On top of everything else, there was a big challenge in Guilds of Ravnica in that we wanted each mechanic to have synergy with both of its neighboring guilds that make up a three-color combination. (For example, Boros and Selesnya make up white, green, and red.) The reason is that there are going to be monocolor cards in your color with the other guild’s mechanic, and quite often in Ravnica sets you actually end up three colors so having that synergy is important.

To go through them:

  • Undergrowth is a mechanic that wants you to have a lot of creatures in your deck, and convoke is a mechanic that incentivizes you to play a lot of creatures.
  • Convoke is a mechanic that wants lots of small token creatures around, which Mentor is great with.
  • Mentor is an aggressive strategy which tends to lack ways to mitigate drawing too many lands and late game action, which allows Jump-Start to shine.
  • Jump-Start can be used from your graveyard, and surveil helps put cards there.
  • And speaking of surveil putting cards there, it’s great with undergrowth since it can also dump extra creatures into your graveyard.

You might notice that surveil, the Dimir mechanic there, is a real workhouse in this set, synergizing heavily with both Izzet and Golgari. You might be surprised to see, then, it was actually the last one added: it took a while to arrive there! 

After two Ravnica blocks of Dimir mechanics that didn’t quite get there, it had a lot to live up to this time around. We spent a ton of time trying different Dimir mechanics. We tried so many off-the-wall ideas… and ultimately, we settled on something very simple, but effective, which fit the role needed. Just like how the Dimir like it! And fortunately, it has been a hit so far and plays great: I think we finally got a Dimir mechanic which resonates with our players.

GN: What do you hope Guilds of Ravnica will bring to Standard overall?

GV: The fall set is always the most exciting time of Standard to me, because the rotation just happened and the slate is clean and fresh. Kaladesh and Amonkhet block had been a huge piece of Standard for a long time, and their mark was certainly felt – so it really is a time for something new…

…And what a time it is! Many of players’ favorite Standard formats of all time involve Ravnica. Multicolored cards are so powerful, and the mana fixing is always so good, that really anything is possible. In past Standard formats with Ravnica, we’ve seen everything from single-color decks to five-color decks be strong. We have some pretty good ideas – and I can’t wait to see what people come up with once the set gets into players’ hands!

I’ve been diving into the constructed format a little bit already on Magic: the Gathering Arena, and it’s been so cool to see what people are playing. There’s always a lot of what we expect… But also some really original decks we weren’t! There’s nothing quite like Ravnica. 

GN: Finally, what clues can players take from Guilds of Ravnica that will help to set up Ravnica Allegiance?

GV: From flavor perspective, in Guilds of Ravnica, we’ve seen the tensions mounting. Things are a little uneasy on Ravnica. And you’ll continue to see that progress in the next set as well.

From a mechanics perspective, we wanted to give all the guilds equal treatment between the two sets, so you didn’t feel left out no matter which guild was your favorite. In a way, the sets are mirror images of one another. So you can expect each guild to have its own mechanic, its own Guildgate, and so on. (Of course, there are some fresh new twists as well!) And some of the overarching themes from Guilds of Ravnica will continue, such as gates-matter.

What’s all of this building up to? Well, that mysterious third set releasing after Ravnica Allegiance. For as similar as Guilds of Ravnica and Ravnica Allegiance are to things we’ve done in the past, that one is really quite different. It’s something we’ve been building up to. And, well… you’ll just have to wait and see!

The Magic: The Gathering set Guilds of Ravnica comes out Oct. 5 worldwide and will be available not only in traditional 15-card booster packs, but also pre-constructed Planeswalker Decks and as a Bundle, as well as Theme Boosters and Guild Packs.

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