by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
Rakdos, Lord of Riots will always be a bit of a special MTG card to me. It was a card that inspired a friend of mine to get into Magic the Gathering. One great thing about new players is that they often notice things about certain cards that more enfranchised players don't. The power level of Rakdos, Lord of Riots always seemed obvious to me. but he was a bit awkward to build around in competitive play.
Red and Black decks, so named Rakdos after that guild's color combination, were quite strong in the days of Return to Ravnica Standard. the leader himself and the namesake of the guild Rakdos himself didn't see too much competitive play. His battle-cruiser type ability seemed best reserved for an EDH deck built specifically around him. indeed, he would become a very powerful commander as time went on for a variety of reasons.
But in Standard, Rakdos, Lord of Riots could serve as a more efficient one-of creature than many people realized. First of all, a 6/6 Flyer with Trample for only 4 mana is downright ridiculous. His only real downside is that you can't cast him unless an opponent has lost life that turn. In Commander, there are about 2 million ways for that to happen. In Standard, there were obviously not so many. But it was most certainly doable given how aggressive Rakdos decks were, and still are really. on raw power alone, this guy was very playable.
On top of that, Rakdos's secondary ability is extremely interesting. For each point of damage dealt to opponents that turn, Rakdos makes your creature spells that you cast cost X fewer colorless mana to cast. It's this ability which makes this card a truly good boss monster in a Rakdos deck. It would also be the key to his power as a Commander.
Being able to make creature spells cost less is always a good thing. Considering how often a Rakdos, Lord of Riots deck causes damage to opponents, you're likely going to be casting a LOT of cheap monsters. In Commander, considering his ability reads OPPONENTS, this allows for even more deadly tactics. Effects that deal damage to all opponents or players become a lot more relevant in a multiplayer format like Commander.
However, there were practical synergies to take advantage of in his Standard heydey. Using a simple commonly played burn spell like Searing Spear would reduce your creatures casting costs for the rest of the turn be reduced by 3 colorless mana. Then, you could find yourself dropping a Thundermaw Hellkite for merely two red mana. This is slightly absurd.
Rakdos, Lord of Riots also made other big Dragons of the time like Moonveil Dragon and Balefire Dragon suddenly far less intimidating to cast. In the right situation, you could drop a lot of big scary stuff in one fell swoop. Heck, you could potentially make Griselbrand cost only 4 Black mana. I don't recall this interaction being taken advantage of in Standard, but it would have been a good one. Sadly, it doesn't work in Commander, as Griselbrand is banned in that format for many reasons.
Rakdos, Lord of Riots makes a very good Commander when used alongside great cards like Olivia Voldaren (another fine Rakdos card) and other cards like Chandra of the Firebrand that can consistently ping players.
On the other hand, his cheap casting cost makes playing two or three in a Constructed deck very manageable. However, no Standard decks really ever wanted that many copies and other constructed formats found him a bit too situational to brew around.
While we were never going to see any top-tier lists running Rakdos, Lord of Riots, that doesn't mean he wasn't a good card at the time. He actually made some appearances at local Friday Night Magic tournaments for a bit. In the long run, he's become an excellent Commander. He's also a very useful member of other Commander decks looking to swarm the board quickly and efficiently with big bad boy monsters.
Don't overlook the Lord of Riots, because a 6/6 trampling flyer alone can be enough to wreck your day. Plus, he can bring a lot of friends along with him, too!
Grave Betrayal has been a popular card among Commander players since it was first released in Return to Ravnica. This Enchantment has a very splashy effect, taking any creature that isn't yours that dies and putting it back onto the field under your control. Even more flavorfully, it also becomes a black Zombie in addition to whatever colors and types it already had.
With how popular Zombies are as a casual tribe, Grave Betrayal has found itself in quite a number of mono-Black and Reanimator decks. But being a 7-drop, and the fact you'll ever only want to play one copy, it's been roughly a 50-cent to dollar rare for years. Even foils, which are a favorite of Commander players, have barely passed over $1.50.
In July 2015, however, foil Grave Betrayals began being listed for at least $3 a piece on Ebay and Amazon. Non-foil copies have been in and out of the top 100 best selling Single Cards on Amazon since then, as well. So why the sudden interest? At that time, it had little to do with the supply of Return to Ravnica drying up. It had more to do with speculation around the release of a hot new creature from Magic Origins: Liliana, Heretical Healer.
The -8 ability on Liliana, Defiant Necromancer looks familiar. It's not quite Grave Betrayal but it's close enough. The new Liliana flip-walker proved to be a key piece to a new and improved Zombie archetype in kitchen table Magic and Commander. Of course, if your end game is going to revolve around Liliana's "ultimate" ability, then why not have Grave Betrayal to give you redundancy?
With the reveal of a powerful new Zombie called Relentless Dead from Shadows Over Innistrad, many Zombie related cards started flying out of inventories everywhere. Not only are Grave Betrayal foils finally starting to show an uptick in price, but non-foil copies are seeing steady growth, as well. Between February and March 2016, Grave Betrayal saw a 30-day increase from $0.68 to $0.86 on TCGPlayer. That doesn't sound like much, but it's a 26 percent jump for a card that sees zero competitive play.
Grave Betrayal foils are now listing for about $6 on Amazon. Non-foils are now selling over $2. This time, however, eBay is showing the opposite trend. You can buy playsets - 4 copies - for around $1 a copy. If you're looking for this card, investing in either non-foils or foils isn't a bad idea at all. The sudden new demand from casual and Commander players will likely push the price much higher.
Grave Betrayal has been a casual hit for a long time and it could easily be a $5 card in non-foil before long. It could be reprinted in the new Innistrad sets, but unlikely. But being a casual hit, these tend to show up in pre-constructed decks such as Commander and Duel Decks. If you can, try to find cheap foils if you need this card. They're always a much safer investment when it comes to these kind of cards.
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
Selesyna is an interesting guild, with some very powerful and aggressive creatures. The green/white guild has seen quite a power boost since its return in the Return to Ravnica block. Today on Mages of the Guild, we’ll see how the newer guildmage stacks up to the older one. First, we take a look at our old friend, Commander token-lover favorite, Selesnya Guildmage.
While Selesnya Guildmage’s abilities do not at first appear to be incredible powerful, in the right deck, they are definitely relevant. There’s a reason he’s been reprinted in both the Commander 2011 and Commander 2013 products, as well as in Archenemy and Modern Masters 2015.
Any deck that runs a bunch of little creatures can benefit from having this Elf Wizard around. The first ability for 3G (3 colorless, 1 Green) puts a 1/1 green Saproling creature token into play. This is a mediocre, but usable mana-sink in Commander for sure. It’s sub-par for Constructed purposes, though. The second ability for 3W (3 colorless, 1 White) gives all creatures you control +1/+1 until end of turn. This is the stronger of the two abilities by far.
In a deck that can swarm the field with creatures, this is a fine addition. It’s not a fantastic card by today’s Constructed standards. But it still has a home in anything that runs a ton of tokens, especially ones based around producing lots of Saprolings.
Return to Ravnica brought Selesnya players great creatures like Loxodon Smiter and Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice. The new guildmage, though, Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage, is a bit underwhelming.
The first ability for 4GW (4 colorless, 1 Green, 1 White) simply puts a 3/3 green Centaur creature token onto the battlefield. That’s very pricey token generation. The second ability for 2GW (2 colorless, Green, White) allows you to Populate, or put a token onto the battlefield that’s a copy of another creature token you control. That ability is slightly better. With Voice of Resurgence running around as of Dragon’s Maze, the Populate mechanic can be quite relevant.
It’s a tough call here between these two, that each have their place in Commander decks, but Selesnya Guildmage is a bit better simply for being able to pump creatures for a turn. Neither is highly Constructed playable, but Selesnya Guildmage wins by a bit here. Despite the Populate ability with the Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage, the original Ravnica guildmage is just a tad more versatile.
Winner: Selesnya Guildmage, by a bit
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
"Mages of the Guild" takes a look at the Guildmages from the original Ravnica block and comparing them to the new Guildmages from the Return to Ravnica block.
So, for Rakdos, who will win?
Rix Maadi Guildmage is a very interesting card. While he hasn’t ever seen much Standard play at all, he has a couple of very interesting mana abilities. He can give you combat advantage, and deal a little extra damage, as well.
While you might say that “target blocking creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn” doesn’t sound like a big deal, it can indeed be so. While it’s not the most impressive mana sink ability around, if you have open mana, it can actually save you a burn card later. It also lets you save valuable removal cards like Dreadbore or Hero’s Downfall for something more threatening. It also means that you can get through just a little more often.
His second ability is actually fairly relevant, too. Say you have one card in hand and it’s not anything you’ll use on this turn. While you may not want to tap out to use Rix Maadi’s ability, making a player lose 1 or 2 extra life can indeed be relevant (it will be more in the future). He’s not the best of the guildmages, but you have to watch out for him.
So let’s compare the new Guildmage to his old counterpart, Rakdos Guildmage. Pretty freaky looking guy, isn’t he? While his abilities aren’t good enough for Constructed play today, they are interesting. His first ability is a nice little combat trick. For 3B (3 colorless, 1 Black) you discard a card and target creature gets -2/-2 until end of turn. At the cost of a card in hand and four mana, though, it’s clear that Rix Maadi’s ability is actually a bit better. So the new Guildmage has the advantage here.
However, this older Guildmage has a very interesting second ability. For 3R (3 colorless, 1 Red), you can make a 2/1 red Goblin creature token with haste onto the battlefield, which you then have to exile at the beginning of the next end step.
In Commander, you can make a lot of little hasty Goblin guys to annoy your opponent, certainly. Infinite mana equals infinite tokens, as well. But what’s most interesting about this ability is that you can create chump-blockers on your opponent’s turn. You can also create potential problem hasty attackers on your own turn. Still, though, the ability is a bit more costly, and you have far more effective removal in the formats in which this Guildmage is legal.
Overall, Rix Maadi Guildmage is a bit more useful than his older counterpart. While he’s not flashy, the Return To Ravnica version is a bit more flexible in combat situations, and has a useful ping ability. From a Constructed standpoint, I have to go with the new kid on the block here. However, in Commander, the Rakdos Guildmage is actually a Goblin-spewing combo piece for infinite mana shenanigans.
But there is one more thing about Rix Maadi Guildmage that gives him the slightest edge. In Commander, while it's hardly a staple in any particular deck, players lose life on a regular basis. So his second ability to make a player lose an additional life for only 2 mana is fairly efficient.
Winner: Rix Maadi Guildmage, just because he's slightly better in Commander.
by ElspethFTW, Old School Duelist
Next up on Mages of the Guild are the black/green guildmages of the Golgari. Will the newer brethren’s skills overwhelm the old mage’s abilities? Let’s take a look.
Korozda Guildmage is the newer of the two and has two fairly decent abilities. The first costs 1BG (1 colorless, 1 Black, 1 Green) and gives a target creature +1/+1 and intimidate until end of turn. This evasion can prove useful, and if you have enough mana to pour into this ability, you could get in for a decent amount of damage in one turn. It can also be used defensively, for the extra power and toughness, which is also useful.
The second ability costs 2BG (2 colorless, 1 Black, 1 Green). You sacrifice a nontoken creature (important that you can’t use a token) and you put X 1/1 green Saproling creature tokens onto the battlefield, where X is the sacrificed creature’s toughness. This is a pretty decent ability that can be used offensively and defensively. You could sacrifice a creature that will be destroyed by removal anyway, essentially negating that removal and getting Saproling tokens to replace it. It’s an even better ability in Commander where there are some creatures with massive amounts of toughness (Ghoultree, Tree of Redemption, etc.) which you can sacrifice for tons of token shenanigans.
He’s also an Elf, so for fans of green/black Elves, he can be fairly useful, especially since his second ability is even more powerful with how strong Elves can become over the course of a game!
Golgari Guildmage has two interesting abilities, but each of them cost 5 total mana. The first costs 4B (4 colorless, 1 Black) and allows you to sacrifice a creature and return target creature card from your graveyard to your hand. This can be a pretty useful ability, especially when this card was first printed back in the original Ravnica block where Dredge was such an important and powerful mechanic. Five mana is a lot for this sort of ability, but it’s definitely useful in Commander.
The second ability costs 4G (4 colorless, 1 Green) and allows you to put a +1/+1 counters on target creature. There are plenty of far better ways, today at least, that can put these counters on creatures at a far lesser cost.
He is also an Elf Shaman, like his newer counterpart, but the abilities are clearly less powerful than the Korozda version. In Commander, I could see both working together. But he is clearly the weaker of the two here, and the disparity between the two cards’ power levels is not even really close .
Winner: Korozda Guildmage, by a good degree!
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