Guildpact: Izzet Gizmometry Review (Part 1 of 2)
In 1992, a twenty-three-year-old aspiring filmmaker named Robert came up with a plan that would help him make the movies he’d dreamt of making since his childhood. With his grades not high enough to get into the film department of his local college, it was “plan B or bust.” The idea was simple: make a low-budget film, sell it, and use the proceeds to fund the next one- repeat as needed. He raised funds for his first “feature” film however he could, including volunteering to take experimental drugs in drug-testing studies. Finally, when he’d cobbled together all of $9,000, he was ready to shoot.
The film was completed in two weeks, and by ruthlessly cutting every corner he could to save money, Robert even managed to come in under budget. Robert wrapped up post-production, copied his film onto a videotape, and dropped it off at the distribution company he’d selected to sell his film to. His plan worked- the company rang him back, offering the tidy sum of $20,000 for the film. This was clearly a success for Robert- he’d managed to nearly triple his initial investment, and who knows what he might have been able to accomplish with that $20,000. Perhaps after a number of years toiling away in obscurity, churning out modestly-successful films one after the next, he might have finally made a hit. But Fate has a funny way about it, sometimes, and things didn’t quite go according to Robert’s plan.
While he was in Los Angeles to see the distribution company, he chanced to leave a copy of the film at one of Hollywood’s most successful talent agencies- if you’re going to dream, why not dream big? Then a funny thing happened- they loved it. While Robert was waiting for the distribution company to get its paperwork in order, the talent agency rang him back and agreed to represent him. He was signed on at a major studio which picked up his film, and signed a two-year writing/directing deal. And so, with a triumph of ambition over money, Robert Rodriguez was able to vault from El Mariachi into a fully-budgeted major studio production for his next film. He had arrived, and the moment was his to seize or lose. With much hanging in the balance of his next production, he decided that he was going to go for it with a sequel to the film that had got him there, and so began writing what would end up as Desperado. When later asked about the importance of working with whatever resources are at hand to make one’s creative vision a reality, Rodriguez noted that “a lot of people are sitting around waiting for someone to hand them money. It’s never going to happen.”
Except it did.
A few years later, another unlikely Hollywood story would play itself out. After moving to Los Angeles to chase success with his band, Troy Duffy took a job as a bartender and bouncer at a local bar to pay the bills. One day he came home to his low-rent apartment to find a woman being carried out of the apartment across the hall from him, which belonged to a drug dealer. Outraged at the sight, with no film or movie experience whatsoever he started writing a script as an outlet for what he was feeling. Before long, what came out at the other end of his creative tunnel was The Boondock Saints.
Duffy passed the completed script to an acquaintance of his, a producer’s assistant for a major studio. As with Rodriguez, things took their own momentum from there, and at the end of a bidding war Duffy found the production rights picked up by Miramax. At those late nights toiling away in front of his rented computer Duffy could hardly have hoped for more- Miramax offered him $450,000 to film it, a budget for the movie of $15 million, a contract with his band to do the soundtrack and- why not- Miramax would even buy out the bar he worked at and hire him to run it.
Unike Rodriguez, who seemed to make the most of his opportunities, Duffy made the least of his. He asked some friends to film a documentary of his sudden success, and the resulting film, Overnight, plays like a study in what not to do. Through poor decision-making and extraordinary arrogance, Duffy managed to unwind everything that he had gained, poisoning relationship after relationship. Miramax dropped it, and when The Boondock Saints finally hit the screens it was through a small, independent studio, and it showed on a grand total of five screens for all of one week. Although critically panned, the film caught fire later with fans as Blockbuster Video acquired the film for its own in-house distribution channel of direct-to-video films, and it became a tremendous success. Unfortunately for Duffy, who had negotiated away his distribution rights as part of his deal to get the film made at all, he saw nothing at all from his own movie’s success.
His response to this was litigation, and in addition to clawing back a bit of the revenue he was able to secure sequel rights to the film. Finally, in 2009, Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day was released. Like the first film, it was critically panned, but it seemed to exhibit little of the charm and flair that made the first one a cult hit. Desperado was a blossoming from El Mariachi, while Boondock Saints II a diminishment of the original. Although this is hardly conclusive- subjective taste being what it is- what does become clear is that the the concept of a sequel is often a divisive and risky one.
One the one hand, there are those that bemoan the lack of creativity in the creative fields. Sequels, it is felt, are a study in diminishing returns. Each time a story is franchised, it represents either a shortcut or a starvation of creative talent. After all, if someone had no shortage of ideas, wouldn’t they simply make something new? One need only point to films like Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights and Weekend at Bernie’s II to illustrate their case- and it’s a logic that’s hard to argue with.
On the other hand, a case can also be made that there’s nothing wrong with revisiting a creative setting that has been enjoyed and explored before. People invest themselves emotionally in stories and develop emotional attachments with characters- why limit this to just one tale? Indeed, there are creative challenges all their own in crafting a succession, such as narrative consistency and continuity across works, which aren’t faced at all when crafting something from scratch. Films like Aliens, The Dark Knight, or The Godfather II all push the pendulum in the other direction.
Having now read through over 1,100 words on filml one might well wonder where the relevance to Magic: the Gathering is, and how all of this has the first thing to do with Izzet Gizmometry. But it’s an uncommon moment that one finds oneself at the beginning of history and can recognise it as such, and in just over a month we’ll have cause to return to these thoughts on the benefits and pitfalls of the sequel, and take stock of what Wizards has delivered. Earlier in Magic’s history, we saw sets that sequentially played out a narrative across different blocks, but for much of this these were pre-planned story arcs rather than actual, seperately-developed sequels. We’ve discussed some of these in our look at Gruul Wilding, from the Rath Cycle to the saga of the Mirari in Onslaught/Invasion (which even touched on Mirrodin with the Mirari taking the form of Memnarch).
Magic’s first “true” sequel could be said to be 2006’s Coldsnap, a set made as the coda to Ice Age and Alliances to round out a three-set block (up until then, Homelands had been loosely cobbled in as the second). Although not the best-received set of all time, that combined with the feedback they received from Time Spiral block- which deliberately mined ideas, concepts, and creative content from all throughout Magic’s history- assured Wizards that a return to an existing world was possible. In 2010, the first “sequel block” was released. The success of Scars of Mirrodin and its successive expansions then paved the way for Return to Ravnica.
As Mark Rosewater stated in his most recent “State of Design” column, this time around the sequel is going to be a little bit different. “In each of our previous returns,” he wrote, “we tended to do drastic things to the world we returned to. Dominaria went through multiple wars as well as an Armageddon. Mirrodin not only faced an invasion but got completely remade. Our return to Ravnica is not so radical.” Instead, “We’re going back to the world we left, the one you all fell in love with… Return to Ravnica is truly revisiting Ravnica.”
Of course, that includes a look at the guild behind today’s deck, the Izzet. Rosewater’s admitted favourite, they’re going to be one of the two guilds at the front and center of the sequel’s early impressions as they’re part of the “Ravnica preview” of Duel Decks: Izzet vs Golgari. We’ll cover that- and the Return- in their due course. In the meantime, let’s take one last look at the original Ravnica block, now completely reviewed as of the Izzet.
A Dance of Wind and Fire
The Izzet are the “mad scientists” of Ravnica, officially responsible for keeping the lights on in the city. Running water, steam power, heat- the Izzet are at the very heart of Ravnica’s infrastructure. Of course, like many of the guilds they tend to perceive their civic duties almost as a side hobby, with their true passions lying in the theory and practice of magic. They take a quasi-scientific approach to the craft, and set about the process discovery with something often approaching reckless abandon. Izzet Gizmometry looks to channel that spirit throughout its construction, beginning with the fact that the deck is one of the most creature-light offerings in all of preconstructed Magic. With only nine bodies in the deck, its central focus are the instants and sorcery framework that no Red/Blue build is complete without.
The deck leads with the Izzet Guildmage, a card that looks very strong on first blush but isn’t quite what it appears. To be certain, being able to double up on instants and sorceries- even ones that costs less than three mana- can deliver some splendid card advantage. That said, many of the cards that fall within this criteria already have the Izzet’s replicate keyword for less than the Guildmage’s activation cost, meaning that it’s simply cheaper to let the card do the work itself rather than the Guidlmage. Still, there are a few spells without it that you’ll be happy to wring a little extra value out of.
Next up we have a trio of three-drops, fittingly enough. The Wee Dragonauts are the Kiln Fiend of their day, giving you a little less of a power boost for each instant or sorcery in return for having flying. Although they don’t gain the bonus for any replications, the cheap cost of many of the deck’s noncreature spells can help you set up a substantial boost to help end the game in your favour. In addition to the pair of Dragonauts, there’s also a single copy of the Gelectrode. Like the Dragonauts, with the right series of spells the Gelectrode can be a pinging machine, not unlike the Goblin Sharpshooter during its own heyday.
Moving up to the four drops, we open with Tibor and Lumia. The “guild champion” for Izzet, this Wizardly duo gives you a bonus for playing Blue and Red spells. For the Red trigger, you get to dish out one damage to each creature without flying, which can really wipe the board later in the game if you can chain a few together. Of course, since Tibor and Lumia are gounded, that can kill them as well. But aha! Cast a Blue spell, and target creature gains flying until end of turn- just the think to whisk them (or anything else ) out of harm’s way. Here we also find a pair of Petrahydroxes, four-mana 3/3’s that run back to your hand whenever they’re the target of anything.
The deck’s final creature is the Izzet Chronarch. Hardly the closer you might expect for five mana, this 2/2 is in reality simply a way to get an instant or sorcery back from your graveyard. The 2/2 body is useful, but make no mistake- what you’re paying for here is the retrieval, so it may be a card better held until later in the game when you’ve got something worth returning…not that there are any shortage of targets.
Something from Every Lesson
Given the relative paucity of creatures, the noncreature suite is unsurprisingly robust. With just a couple of exceptions, it can be broadly be divided into one of four major categories.
The burn package consists of five cards, three of which are Pyromatics. A fine two-mana point of damage at instant speed, thanks to replicate you can scale the damage as the game progresses. It’s neither cheap nor efficient (3 damage will cost you six mana), but it’s as good as it gets for higher-degree burn. For a smaller job, you get a singleton Electrolyze, capped at 2 damage but a card that replaces itself when cast. Finally, Rain of Embers is your untargeted board-wide option. Although the damage it does is fairly paltry, few Ravnican decks will emerge unscathed from it. In a pinch, you can also copy it with your Guildmage, though you’ll likely lose the Guildmage as well unless you have a way to save him from himself.
The bounce package is one such way. A well-timed Peel from Reality can save your own creature while undoing some of your opponent’s hard work, while Repeal can return a single target to its owner’s hand and draw you a card to boot. For a slower solution, Vacuumelt can Unsummon any number of creatures with its replicate, provided you can pay the hefty cost. Lastly, a Mark of Eviction gives you the ability to keep up a steady stream of bouncing, one creature every turn.
Given the nature of the deck, the Izzet are rather vulnerable to disruption of any kind. Removal, for instance, is much more ominous when you have so few creatures. To help head off such problems at the pass, you have a selection of countermagic. Runeboggle gives your opponent a slight nudge, while Convolute can instead provide a real shove. Both cost the same, but Runeboggle makes up for its comparative weakness by giving you an extra card. If instead what you need is a hard(er) counter, there’s a pair of four-mana Frazzles also available here.
Finally, as you might expect there’s some card drawing as well. Telling Time gives you the ability to get the best two cards of your next three, with the caveat that you have to wait a turn to see the second. Train of Thought, meanwhile, is another replicate spell. Given enough mana, you can refill your hand later in the game when you’re at risk for running out of gas, or just cycle it mid-game for something new if you’re after a land drop. After all, with the Izzet Chronarchs in the deck, you can always get it back.
The last few cards defy easy classification. A Leyline of Lightning offers the deck’s second rare, and gives you the ability to crank out a bit more damage over the course of the game if played early enough (such as at the start of the game). A pair of Thunderheads are essentially ersatz removal, since there’s nothing else the deck can do with the 3/3 token creatures outwith using them to block, and a singleton Reroute for some retargeting shenanigans.
As is norm for these decks, there’s also a small nonbasic lands package available. A pair of Izzet Boilerworks are the customary bounce lands, and a Nivix, Aerie of the Firemind gives you some potential card advantage. It’s important to bear in mind that the card Nivix shows you still has to be paid for, limiting its usefulness to only the very late game. Still, considering how many instants and sorceries are on offer here there’s little harm in having it.
That’s all for now, we’ll be putting the Izzet through their paces in our final review for the original Ravnica block before moving on to the latest Duel Decks release. See you in two days!