Return to Ravnica: Izzet Ingenuity Review (Part 1 of 2)
The concept of the guilds was the glittering foundation the entire set of Ravnica was built upon, and it gave the game one of its most enduring identities. Even as late as Scars of Mirrodin block, some half a decade later, it wasn’t at all unusual to hear folks refer to Red/White decks as “Boros,” even if some of the other guild names had fallen from common parlance. They were one of the game’s greatest flavour innovations, but they didn’t all come easily.
We’d discussed before during the review of Code of the Orzhov that in the initial design meetings for the different guilds that made up the block, R&D had blank spots on the wall where members of the team could stick images and pictures of things they felt best encapsulated the guild. From there the guild identities and were formed, mechanics were developed, and the overall guild settled into a cohesive whole. Some guilds, of course, were harder than others, but it’s difficult to imagine any of them being quite as simple as the Izzet.
The impassioned, hectic, frenetic and chaotic crossroads between Red and Blue, the Izzet’s mechanical identity came quite easily to mind. With these two colours being the ones that most cared about “spells” (instants and sorceries), the intersection was natural and obvious. Even the original mechanic, replicate, made its way through development with little difficulty. Said Aaron Forsythe (now head of R&D) at the time,
The initial definition of replicate—called “polycast” in design—was that it allowed the caster to pay the spell’s mana cost multiple times to generate its effect multiple times. The design team liked that definition because it was very clean and created the gameplay feel we wanted for the Izzet—“If we can last until the late game, our spells will be better than yours.”
In our coverage of Rakdos Raid, we talked about how in the latest visit to Ravnica Wizards sought- where feasible- to create some overlay between the guilds’ old and new mechanics. On the face of it, replicate and overload have no direct synergy, but that too is a bit misleading. In this case, the Izzet guild has two mechanics that fulfill a similar role. Indeed, Forsythe’s quote cited above could just as easily be referring to overload, the new Izzet mechanic.
Overload, too, had a fairly straightforward path to the printer’s. The brainchild of Return to Ravnica’s lead designer, Ken Nagle, it initially was concepted as “dispersion,” and was a mechanic Nagle submitted during the first Great Designer Search. Although Nagle would not go on to win the competition, he so impressed Wizards that they found an internship for him in the company rather than let him go, and he’s been a rising figure in R&D ever since. Indeed, he was the lead designer on Worldwake, New Phyrexia, and even last year’s Commander release.
Like replicate, overload offers the promise of more value if you have more mana to pay into it. While the old mechanic did this by simply copying the spell you were casting any number of times, overload still represents a single casting- its’ the targeting that changes. Rather than hitting one creature, it can hit many. As we’ll see with Izzet Ingenuity, that’s the key to getting the most from the deck. If one thing hasn’t changed over time, it’s the wild, unpredictable nature of the Izzet’s decks. As Mark Rosewater perhaps put it best when he said,
How a deck plays one game might not be a good indicator of what it does next game. But then again, it might. One thing’s for sure – if you like the Izzet, be sure to hold on tight, because you can be in for a very wild ride.
Watch Ravnica Burn
Although it packs almost twice as many creatures as its predecessor, Izzet Gizmometry, the overall balance of Izzet Ingenuity nevertheless heavily favours noncreature spells. Its creature complement largely has two areas of focus- defending in the early-to-midgame transition while you set the deck up, and helping the deck find a path to win through its employment of sorceries and instants.
We find a good example of the latter right off the bat with the one-drop Blistercoil Weird. The Weird is a 1/1, as you might expect, but it has the ability to grow larger with each successive spell cast (“spell” here being the generic reference for sorceries/instants). As if that didn’t offer enough of a potential combat trick right there, it also lets you untap the Weird, allowing it to act as a surprise blocker when need arises.
Moving on to the two-drops, we find an evasive beater in the Welkin Tern, a reprint from Zendikar that found its way into Magic 2013. Although its value as a blocker is somewhat limited, it does offer 2 power that’s harder to intercept. You also get a pair of Goblin Electromancers, 2/2 bodies we first saw in Duel Decks: Izzet vs Golgari. The Electromancers convey a sort of Talismanic effect, reducing the cost of your spells and, by extension, letting you cast more of them earlier. Lastly, there’s another utility body in the Nivix Guildmage. More useful here than its predecessor, the Izzet Guildmage, in the previous deck, this iteration of the cycle lets you loot for three mana, and replicate for four.
In the three-drop slot we find a single occupant, the Guttersnipe. This Goblin Shaman is another of the deck’s more interesting occupants, ladling out Shocks to your opponents each time you cast an instant or sorcery. This gives the deck tremendous reach, able to dish out damage even when the red zone is at an impasse. A further pair of cards fill out the next rung up the ladder, the Runewing and the Cobblebrute. Packing a full three copies of both, each have their role to play in the deck. The Runewing follows on the heels of the Welkin Tern as an aerial menace. In addition to the extra point of toughness as well as the lifting of the Tern’s blocking restriction, the extra mana on the sticker price of the Runewing lets you replace it for a free card when it dies.
The other card, the Cobblebrute, has none of these benefits. What it does have, however, is size- a full 5 power. Although the 2 toughness means it’s fairly vulnerable to being traded out on the attack, there are several ways around that. The first, of course, is not to attack, leaving the Elemental back as trade bait to dissuade your opponent from swinging in with larger, often more expensive creatures and letting you stall for time. The other way is to use the supporting cast of combat tricks to ensure that the Cobblebrute not only survives, but is able to deliver the maximal damage.
The same also applies to the top-of-curve Tenement Crasher. Sturdier than the Cobblebrute, this Beast also brings solid power to the table, and with haste it has the ability to catch your opponent off-guard. The last card not only accomplishes the same effect, but it does so evasively. The Hypersonic Dragon, the first of the deck’s two rares and the premium one at that, clocks in at a respectable 4/4 with flying and haste. If that’s all it did, it wouldn’t be half bad at five mana, but the Dragon also brings along a nifty trick of its own by giving all your sorceries flash. That’s right- instant speed sorceries! There’s much more potential to a build-around card like this than is realised here- instant-speed Krenko’s Commands and Wild Guesses aren’t going to set the table afire (though a flashed-in Mizzium Mortars might). Like many of the deck’s creatures, the Dragon plays an interesting role with how it interacts with instants and sorceries, while delivering a solid beater in the air.
Watch the Voltage
Refreshingly, Izzet Ingenuity packs an impressive burn suite, particularly considering the removal-light environment we’re currently in. The total of seven burn spells puts the paltry content of Rakdos Raid to shame. First up is the new Lightning Bolt variant, Annihilating Fire. Although considerably more expensive, Annihilating Fire does have the advantage of exiling anything it helps kill- useful against those pesky Golgari and their scavenge creatures, for one.
Next up is a copy of the familiar Chandra’s Fury from Magic 2013, which spreads its damage out across your opponent and all their creatures. Against a board of weenies, this could return a fair amount of value. Sometimes, however, what you need is one really big blast to take down an opponent’s closer, and here we find a role for Explosive Impact. Clocking in at a hefty six mana, Explosive Impact certainly lives up to its name not only on the battlefield, but on your ‘wallet’ as well. Still, when facing down, say, an unleashed Carnival Hellsteed, you’ll be quite glad to have it.
The last two options introduce us to the overload mechanic. Electrickery dishes out a single point of damage to an opposing creature, but can go wide and hit them all for only one more mana. The deck’s second rare, on the other hand, does exactly the same but at a much higher damage output. Indeed, an overloaded Mizzium Mortars can sweep your opponent’s board free of creatures quite easily, and at the same converted mana cost of your Explosive Impact. As we look through the overload cards, it’s clearly important to the success of the deck that they be cast whenever possible in their more powerful form. As a guide to how this changes the deck makeup, we’ve included a third mana curve bar above to illustrate what the curve would look like if all spells were cast through overload.
In addition to the burn package, there are a number of ways to bring out additional bodies onto the battlefield. As you’d expect, there are a pair of Izzet Keyrunes on offer here, in keeping with the custom of the set’s Intro Pack decks. The creature created by the Keyrune is amongst the weakest- a mere 2/1- but it has the added benefit of looting on impact to help improve your hand quality. You can also field a warren’s worth of Goblin tokens through a pair each of Krenko’s Command and Goblin Rally.
To what end, you might ask? Believe it or not, Izzet Ingenuity is quite happy with a swarm of weenie creatures on the battlefield thanks to a couple of its trickier options. Whether it be Blustersquall or Teleportal, either spell can prise open your opponent’s defenses and leave them wide-open and exposed. Suddenly, more fragile options like the Cobblebrute become brutal hammer-houses, backed up by a shrieking horde of Goblins and other assorted mad-mages. These are win conditions all on their own, but you only get two of them. This is why the deck looks to take a more passive role early, stalling for time and soaking up damage. The longer you can hang on and keep bodies in play, the more you’re ‘charking up’ for that one-shot knockout blow.
The deck’s other combat trick is Downsize, which has a couple of applications. First, you can overload it for an ersatz Fog effect, blanking incoming damage and picking off a creature or two with your defenders. Alternately, you can sed your army across the table, secure in the knowledge that they are in far less jeopardy than your opponent might believe. Either way you might nab a kill or two if you’re lucky, though it’s an easy cut for another Teleportal or Blustersquall if you’re set to tinkering.
This wouldn’t be an Izzet deck without a little card drawing or filtering, and we have a further two options that fit the bill here. Wild Guess casts looting through a distinctly Red lens, asking you to pass the trash before drawing blind. Thoughtflare, on the other hand, gives you the luxury of discarding after you’ve drawn your four, giving you a significant chance to improve your hand. Finally, there’s a single creature aura here in Pursuit of Flight. Like the Deviant Glee we saw in Rakdos Raid, this is an aura with an off-colour activation, in this case conveying optional flight in addition to the static +2/+2 bonus.
In addition to the usual Islands and Mountains, the deck carries with it an Izzet Guildgate, though it serves no purpose here other than simply being a common dual land- we’ll ahve to wait until Gatecrash to see the full potential of the mechanic unveiled. For now, though, we have an intriguing Izzet deck that’s ready for testing. We’ll take it for a spin to see how it performs, and return in two days’ time to render a final verdict!