Let's be honest. Ravnica: City of Guilds is one of the best Magic the Gathering sets of all time. Not only do the cards have great artwork, a very good back story behind the cards, and some very fascinating cycles of cards, but it also has some of the most sought after, and therefore, most expensive cards in all of Magic.
But when you think of Ravnica, besides some cool legendary creatures, Dark Confidant, and Doubling Season, you have the most important Modern format staples ever: the shocklands.
Perhaps one of the most clever things Magic has ever done is build sets around specific color combinations, and spread those out across an entire block of three sets. Focusing on a group of guilds that abide by certain color combinations in each set provided a lot of flavor for the cards within it. This makes each set in the block have its own unique flavor, and no color combination went without some very interesting cards during this era in Magic.
However, this also means that the shocklands were spread over the three sets, as well. So without further ado, here is a guide to the ten shocklands of the classic Ravnica block.
This is a fairly simple question to answer: when one of these Ravnica dual lands come into play, you can choose to pay 2 life. If you don't, the land comes into play tapped. With how popular three color and even four color decks are today, having these lands with dual combinations of mana is more important than ever. Granted, Legacy has the original dual lands without this drawback, but they are also incredibly expensive because they can't be reprinted due to their inclusion on the Reserved List. Without any chance of reprint, the demand far outweighs the supply for Magic's best dual lands. So the shocklands are a reasonable, far less pricey alternative, albeit considerably inferior.
Also, the Modern format requires a bit more speed than the check-lands of the Core Sets, and the “fast” lands of Scars of Mirrodin & Innistrad have provided. Paying that 2 life to guarantee the land coming into play untapped is preferable to just having lands that are going to simply come into play tapped because the conditions aren’t met. More importantly, you can search shock lands with the fetch lands from Zendikar and Onslaught/Khans of Tarkir. If you’re playing Legacy, you can use these shock lands as a cheaper alternative to the Alpha-Beta-Unlimited dual lands. Granted, you still have to pay the 2 life to have them come into play untapped, but you can’t search ordinary tap lands with fetches, so this is a major advantage.
In 2012, it was decided by Wizards of the Coast to reprint these wonderful mana fixers in the Return to Ravnica block, starting with the five used by the guilds featured in the set: Blood Crypt, Hallowed Fountain, Overgrown Tomb, Steam Vents, and Temple Garden. Next in Gatecrash, Wizards reprinted the other five shock lands:Breeding Pool, Godless Shrine, Sacred Foundry, Stomping Ground, and Watery Grave.
With the shock lands once again in Standard until October 2014, they became more valuable than ever! Going forward, they continue to be the premier land cycle in the rapidly expanding Modern format - the competitive format that uses all cards printed in expansion sets from Eighth Edition on - the first set that was printed in the modern card border.
Black/Green Shock Land
One of the more popular of the shock lands is Overgrown Tomb. It can be found in the first set of the block, Ravnica City of Guilds, as well as in Return to Ravnica with alternate artwork.
The other major perk about shock lands that I have not previously mentioned is that not only do they provide two types of mana, but they also count as both types of land that typically produce those colors of mana. In this case, this means Swamp and Forest. Therefore, any cards that build off of how many Swamps or Forests you have in play benefit from this duality. This is certainly true of many good cards in both Green and Black, which get more powerful with each Forest or Swamp you have in play..
White/Red Shock Land
With red/white burn decks becoming extremely popular in Modern and Legacy, the Sacred Foundry of the Boros guild (red/white) is today one of the more expensive shock lands available. It's also a necessity for Modern Zoo decks, which typically run Red, White, and Green. Boros decks became quite a force in Standard, too, and most people never gave up their copies even after rotation. This is why it still maintains its top status among shock lands as far as price is concerned.
Green/White Shock Land
There was a time where this card was highly sought after. But after the banning of Green Sun’s Zenith in Modern, Temple Garden does not see nearly the competitive play it once did. Today, it’s one of the cheaper shock lands as far as price is concerned. With how relevant green/white decks became in the Return to Ravnica Standard metagame, however, Temple Garden rebounded in value. There are also some fairly competitive Modern decks still using Temple Garden, such as Green/White Hatebears and Bogles, so its value has remained fairly stable even after rotating from Standard.
Blue/Black Shock Land
The final shock land available from the first Ravnica set is Watery Grave, the blue/black shock land. Even though blue/black is a very popular combination for control decks, this is only the third most expensive of the quartet available from this set. Like with its Green/Black counterpart, Overgrown Tomb, the fact that this card doubles as an Island and a Swamp helps those several cards in Blue that benefit from the number of Islands present on your side of the board. This card also has some of the best artwork of the shock lands.
White/Black Shock Land
We move ahead to the second set of the Ravnica block, Guildpact, and we begin with one of the more popular of the Shock Lands, Godless Shrine. White and black at first seems like an odd combination, until you consider that having a land that doubles as a Plains and a Swamp actually makes said color combination more playable than ever.
Isolated Chapel, the white/black dual land from Innistrad, turned white and black from being opposite, disparate elements into complementary pieces of a competitive Magic deck. In Modern, the Chapel and the Shrine form a solid mana-base for W/B/X strategies. The artwork on these cards also continues to get better and better. The artist Rob Alexander actually worked on the entire original shock land cycle of cards. They’re all fine artworks, but this is one of my personal favorites.
Blue/Red Shock Land
Steam Vents covers blue and red, one of the most popular color combinations in the game right now. It's also currently the most expensive of the ten shock lands. There’s not much else to say about it other than it helps complement the aggressive nature of Red with the control aspects of Blue. This combination allows deck builders to create very balanced, potent combos. Steam Vents was reprinted in Return to Ravnica, alongside a great deal of red/blue support courtesy of the Izzet guild.
Red/Green Shock Land
A favorite of Zoo players, Stomping Ground is aptly named for the beast-oriented decks that Red/Green facilitates. While to me it sounds a bit corny to be the name of a land, the flavor behind the name choice makes sense. It’s another mid-range priced shock land that makes a fine addition to any Magic collection. It’s also very good in mid-range Naya decks, including the tier two Ghostway-powered decks.
Red/Black Shock Land
We now move forward to the final set of the Ravnica block, Dissension. This set does have one of the two most expensive of the shock lands right now. However, it does lag behind in value with some of its peers. Red/Black Zombies did quite well in the Return to Ravnica/Gatecrash Standard meta-game, and Jund Pod was long a force in Modern. For some time, it was one of the more expensive shocks. However, since the shocks rotation from Standard, and even with Jund still holding a place in the Modern metagame, Blood Crypt has become the cheapest of the shocks. Still, because of Commander demand, this is definitely one of those shock lands you’ll want to hold onto long-term.
Blue/Green Shock Land
Breeding Pool covers as both an Island and a Forest, giving Green decks the control element they need without having to invest too many land slots to Islands. It's a key piece of the mana-base for the “BUG” (Black/Blue/Green) or "Sultai" control decks becoming increasingly popular in Modern, as well as Bant and 4-color decks. It's also an important part of the mana base for RUG (Red, Blue, Green) Twin decks. Understandably, this card is one of the most sought after from both Dissension and Gatecrash. The reprint from Gatecrash is in the middle of the pack as far as price.
White/Blue Shock Land
There is a reason why dual lands like Seachrome Coast were expensive during their times in Standard. White/blue is one of the strongest control combinations in Magic, so Hallowed Fountain covers one of the most potent color combos in the game. It was at one time the most expensive of all of the shock lands mainly because of its prevalence in the competitive Magic scene. This made it one of the more difficult shock lands to obtain and therefore. With this white/blue Modern staple also available in Return to Ravnica with brand new artwork and even flavor text, it's now in the middle of the pack in value.
With the release of Battle for Zendikar, the shocklands were reprinted in full-art foil versions as part of the extremely rare Expeditions subset. Still, all ten of the Ravnica shock lands are great pick-ups. Foils are especially valuable as Modern players are foiling out their decks much like Legacy players tend to do, being an eternal format where cards never rotate.
Even with the new alternate full-art foils, shock lands are a permanent part of the Modern meta-game, and their values have really nowhere to go but up. If you're looking for a safe investment in Magic cards, the shock lands, especially in foil, are the way to go.