Which Set is Better? Return to Ravnica Versus Gatecrash
Return to Ravnica arrived in September and rocked the Magic world. Return to Ravnica was particularly well-received by players that were underwhelmed or even disappointed with Avacyn Restored and/or Magic 2013. Gatecrash has been well-received in general, but I hear lots of players who say they are disappointed with Gatecrash in comparison to Return to Ravnica. I have to admit that from my first experiences with the new set on prerelease weekend, I was surprised with how differently Gatecrash played when compared to Return to Ravnica. What was I expecting? I’m not sure. Of course Gatecrash would be different from Return to Ravnica, it features five different guilds with five different game mechanics. Still, I expected the two sets to have more in common. I expected the two sets to have a more organic feeling alongside each other. It’s a little hard to describe, what I expected, but I sort of figured that this block of sets, Return to Ravnica, Gatecrash and the upcoming Dragon’s Maze, were created more or less all together, with the same team. At the risk of getting too “inside baseball”, I was surprised to learn that the design and development teams for these three sets are indeed different. The design lead for Return to Ravnica was Ken Nagle, the lead developer was Erik Lauer. Gatecrash had two lead designers, Mark Rosewater and Mark Gottlieb. The lead developer for Gatecrash is Dave Humphreys. Alexis Janson is the lead designer for Dragon’s Maze and the lead developer is Zac Hill. Almost all of these individuals appear somewhere on the design or development teams, in subordinate positions, for the two expansions in this block for which they are not the lead. Essentially, the same people have been working together for a long time on these three sets. I do not question the uniform quality of Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash, they are two very good sets. They just feel more different from each other than I would have expected for some reason.
But which one is BETTER? This has been a hot topic all around Magic for the last month. One of my friends has a theory, he says that Return to Ravnica was SO MUCH BETTER than the last couple of expansions that when Gatecrash arrives, it’s possible we don’t appreciate it as much even though it offers qualities similar to Return to Ravnica.
But which one is BETTER? Which one has better cards? When you get right down to it, which one would win in a fight? This sounds like an esoteric question that can only be solved, if it can at all, subjectively and with debate. While some other guys trot out their reasoned arguments, I have another idea. Lock the two sets in a steel cage and make ‘em FIGHT! Sound crazy? I do this kind of thing all the time. Let me show you how…
Full Set Singleton (the format formerly known as Full Set Highlander)
What’s the best way to compare one set to another? This is an open question, but I think I know the answer isn’t what a lot of my friends do… they name a couple of cards from the set they think is better and then give me a knowing nod. Yeah, THAT’S scientific. Here’s how I do it, I play ALL the cards in one set against ALL the cards in another set. To do this, I use a format I’m now calling Full Set Singleton. A Full Set Singleton deck contains one of every non-basic land card from that set. To this, you add enough basic land so that the deck you end up with is made up of forty percent basic land. Here’s the equation for figuring out how much land is needed for Return to Ravnica (and for Gatecrash as well).
249/X = 6/4
Each of these two sets has exactly 249 cards in it (when you don’t count the basic lands in Return to Ravnica). Cross multiply and you get 6X = 996. Divide 996 by 6 and you get 166. I like there to be the same amount of each basic land in the deck, so I round 166 down to 165, which amounts to 33 of each Plains, Forests, Island, Swamps and Mountains. I add these lands to the 249 other cards in the set and come up with a finished deck of 414 cards. Pretty big deck, right? Well we’re trying to solve some pretty big problems. Does a big deck frighten you? (That’s what she said!)
Hard to shuffle? Kind of. Big hands would help a little bit. Patience helps more. The trick is to shuffle small bits of the deck and then split up the shuffled parts across multiple piles. Repeat this process until you have shuffled the whole deck and then pick up the multiple piles of shuffled cards in some sort of random order until you have rebuilt the giant stack of cards that is a Full Set Singleton deck. Once I have the deck stacked back up, I usually shuffled the top handful of cards one more time.
There are a few other tips for playing with such a big stack of cards. When I use a card that searches out a basic land, or any other specific card, from your library, you COULD take apart your carefully shuffled giant deck and then shuffle the remaining deck all over again, but I have a better idea. Use a proxy to represent the card that you searched out of your deck. If you encounter the actual card that you “searched” for in the duration of your game, set that card aside and draw another instead. Of course, you can circumvent all of the less pleasant aspects of Full Set Singleton by playing it on Magic Online. The online shuffler doesn’t care how big your deck is.
Solving the Big Problems
Full Set Singleton crushes some of the big problems involved in comparing two sets, and it solves them holistically. All of these cards battle against all of those cards. We are no longer trying to make a list of the good cards from one set and comparing them to a similar list from another set. With Full Set Singleton, every card in the set has an equal voice. Every card plays an equal role in helping the set win or lose games against another set.
I have been building Full Set Singleton decks for a couple of years now. I have completed decks for every set since Scars of Mirrodin. Building a Full Set Singleton deck isn’t any more crazy, or any more work, than putting together a set of cards to put into a binder. Except that now, you can BATTLE with them.
Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash are well-suited for Full Set Singleton. Each set has the same number of cards. Each set has color-fixing for each of five two-colored guilds. Return to Ravnica has a little more broad mana-fixing with Axebane Guardian, Chromatic Lantern, Gatecreeper Vine, Transguild Promenade, Mana Bloom and Seek the Horizon. That’s six cards, but just a drop in the bucket in a Full Set Singleton deck of 414 cards.
Best of Seven Game Series
The first thing I do when I test two sets against each other is to play a best-of-seven game series between them.
T1 Return keeps two Swamp, two Island, Plains, Viashino Racketeer and Terrus Wurm. Plays Swamp.
T1 Gatecrash keeps three Islands, Swamp, Slate Street Ruffian, Vizkopa Confessor, Homing Lightning. Draws and plays Island.
T2 Return draws Plains, plays Island.
T2 Gatecrash draws Mountain, plays Swamp.
T3 Return draws Annihilating Fire, plays Plains.
T3 Gatecrash draws Adaptive Snapjaw, plays Slate Street Ruffian.
T4 Return draws and plays Mountain, plays Viashino Racketeer discarding Swamp and drawing Gobbling Ooze.
T4 Gatecrash draws Miming Slime, attacks with Ruffian blocked by Racketeer, Ruffian triggers and Return discards Island, Gatecrash plays Island.
T5 Return draws and plays Island.
T5 Gatecrash draws Crocanura, plays Island.
T6 Return draws and plays Soulsworn Spirit, plays Plains.
T6 Gatecrash draws Kingpin’s Pet, plays Island.
T7 Return draws Street Spasm, attacks with Spirit (20-18).
T7 Gatecrash draws Ivy Lane Denizen.
T8 Return draws Racecourse Fury, attacks with Spirit (20-16), plays Racecourse Fury enchanting Plains.
T8 Gatecrash draws and plays Island.
T9 Return draws and plays Forest, attacks with Spirit (20-14), plays Gobbling Ooze.
T9 Gatecrash draws and plays Mountain.
T10 Return draws and plays Mountain, attacks with Ooze and Spirit, Gatecrash plays Homing Lightning targeting and killing Gobbline Ooze (20-12), Return plays Terrus Wurm.
T10 Gatecrash draws and plays Crackling Perimeter.
T11 Return draws Eyes in the Skies, attacks with Wurm and Spirit (20-5).
T11 Gatecrash draws Lazav, Dimir Mastermind, CONCEDES.
RETURN TO RAVNICA WINS GAME ONE ON TURN 11, LEADS MATCH 1-0
T1 Gatecrash keeps Swamp, Plains, Forest, Undercity Plague, Martial Glory, Righteous Charge and Pit Fight. Plays Swamp.
T1 Return keeps Swamp, Plains, Forest, Centaur Healer, Grim Roustabout and Golgari Longlegs. Draws Codex Shredder, plays Swamp, plays Codex Shredder.
T2 Gatecrash draws Prophetic Prism, plays Forest, plays Prophetic Prism drawing Dinrova Horror, at end of turn Return activates Codex Shredder targeting himself milling Pithing Needle into his own graveyard.
T2 Return draws Plains, plays Forest, plays Grim Roustabout putting a +1/+1 counter on it when it enters the battlefield because of unleash.
T3 Gatecrash draws Firemane Avenger, plays Plains, at end of turn Return activates Codex milling Swamp into his graveyard.
T3 Return draws Forest, plays Plains, attacks with Roustabout (20-18), plays Centaur Healer (23-18).
T4 Gatecrash draws Shambleshark, at end of turn Return activates Codex milling Grove of the Guardian into his graveyard.
T4 Return draws and plays Swamp, attacks with Roustabout and Healer (20-13), at end of turn Gatecrash plays Shambleshark.
T5 Gatecrash draws and plays Crocanura putting a +1/+1 counter on Shambleshark, attacks with Shambleshark (17-13), at end of turn Return activates Codex milling Plains into his graveyard.
T5 Return draws Paralyzing Grasp, plays Island, attacks with Centaur Healer (17-10), plays Golgari Longlegs.
T6 Gatecrash draws and plays Plains, plays Firemane Avenger putting +1/+1 counters (due to evolve) on Crocanura and Shambleshark, at end of turn Return activates Codex milling Plains into his own graveyard.
T6 Return draws and plays Desecration Demon, plays Forest.
T7 Gatecrash draws and plays Gruul Keyrune, at end of turn Return activates Codex milling Forest into his graveyard.
T7 Return draws Archon of the Triumvirate, plays Plains, plays Archon of the Triumvirate.
T8 Gatecrash draws and plays Swamp, plays Dinrova Horror bouncing Archon back to Return’s hand and putting +1/+1 counters (because of evolve) on Crocanura and Shambleshark, Return discards Paralyzing Grasp, at end of turn Return activates Codex milling Mountain into his graveyard.
T8 Return draws Swamp, plays Archon of Triumvirate.
T9 Gatecrash draws Rubblehulk, attacks with Shambleshark blocked by Golgari Longlegs, Gatecrash plays Pit Fight targeting Shambleshark and Archon of the Triumvirate, at end of turn Return activates Codex milling Dramatic Rescue into his graveyard.
T9 Return draws and plays Palisade Giant.
T10 Gatecrash draws and plays Boros Keyrune, at end of turn Return activates Codex milling Ogre Jailbreaker into his graveyard.
T10 Return draws Mizzium Skin, declares attack, attacks with Desecration Demon (17-4).
(Gatecrash can’t block with Firemane Avenger and pump with Martial Glory because the six damage would be transferred to Palisade Giant and not kill it)
T11 Gatecrash draws and plays Mountain, at end of turn Return activates Codex milling Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius into his graveyard.
T11 Return draws and plays Plains, declares attack, Gatecrash activates and then sacrifices Boros Keyrune tapping and putting a +1/+1 counter on Desecration Demon.
T12 Gatecrash draws and plays Forest, plays Rubblehulk putting another counter on Crocanura, at end of turn Return activates and sacrifices Codex Shredder returning Archon of the Triumvirate to his hand from the graveyard.
T12 Return draws Deviant Glee, declares an attack, Gatecrash sacrifices Dinrova Horror tapping and putting a +1/+1 counter on Desecration Demon, Return plays Archon of the Triumvirate.
T13 Gatecrash draws and plays Island.
T13 Return draws Forest, declares attack, attacks with Archon and Desecration Demon and Golgari Longlegs and Grim Roustabout, Archon triggers and Return chooses to detain Firemane Avenger and Rubblehulk and Crocanura, Gatecrash CONCEDES.
RETURN TO RAVNICA WINS GAME TWO ON TURN 13, LEADS MATCH 2-0
T1 Gatecrash keeps Plains, Island, Forest, Forced Adaptation, Hellkite Tyrant, Hands of Binding and Crackling Perimeter. Plays Forest.
T1 Return keeps two Forests, Swamp, Mountain, Island, Counterflux and Slitherhead. Draws Mizzium Mortars, plays Swamp, plays Slitherhead.
T2 Gatecrash draws Forest, plays Island.
T2 Return draws Swamp, plays Mountain, attacks with Slitherhead (20-19).
T3 Gatecrash draws and plays Simic Guildgate.
T3 Return draws Jace, Architect of Thought, plays Island, attacks with Slitherhead (20-18).
T4 Gatecrash draws Syndic of Tithes, plays Plains, plays Syndic of Tithes.
T4 Return draws and plays Island, plays Jace, Architect of Thought, removes two counters from Jace revealing the top three cards of his library, Gatecrash puts Risen Sanctuary in one pile and puts Plains and Dispel in another pile, Return puts Risen Sanctuary into his hand and puts the other two cards on the bottom of his library.
T5 Gatecrash draws Sylvan Primordial, plays Forest, plays Hands of Binding tapping Slitherhead and encoding onto Syndic of Tithes, extort triggers and Gatecrash pays one white mana (19-19), plays Forced Adaptation enchanting Syndic, attacks Jace with Syndic destroying Jace.
T5 Return draws and plays Plains.
T6 Forced Adaptation triggers and puts a +1/+1 counter onto Syndic of Tithes, Gatecrash draws and plays Sacred Foundry tapped, attacks with Syndic blocked by Slitherhead.
T6 Return draws Thoughtflare, plays Forest, plays Mizzium Mortars targeting Syndic of Tithes.
T7 Gatecrash draws and plays Plains, plays Sylvan Primordial destroying Return’s Forest and searching Gatecrash’s library putting Stomping Ground onto the battlefield tapped.
T7 Return draws Plains, plays Forest.
T8 Gatecrash draws Riot Gear, attacks with Primordial (13-19), plays Hellkite Tyrant, Return responds playing Counterflux targeting and countering Hellkite Tyrant, Gatecrash plays Riot Gear.
T8 Return draws and plays Mountain, plays Risen Sanctuary.
T9 Gatecrash draws and plays Guildscorn Ward enchanting Sylvan Primordial, equips Primordial with Riot Gear, attacks with Primordial (6-19), plays Crackling Perimeter.
T9 Return draws Mountain, plays Thoughtflare drawing two Forests and Plains and Hallowed Fountain, discards two Forests, CONCEDES.
GATECRASH WINS GAME THREE ON TURN 9, TRAILS MATCH 1-2
T1 Return keeps two Plains, Forest, Island, Golgari Decoy, Armada Wurm and Inspiration. Plays Forest.
T1 Gatecrash keeps two Swamp, Forest, Clan Defiance, Syndicate Enforcer, Mindeye Drake and Ogre Slumlord. Draws Ghor-clan Rampager, plays Swamp.
T2 Return draws Annihilating Fire, plays Plains.
T2 Gatecrash draws and plays Forest.
T3 Return draws Plains, plays Island.
T3 Gatecrash draws Sunhome Guildmage, plays Swamp.
T4 Return draws Rootborn Defenses, plays Plains, plays Golgari Decoy.
T4 Gatecrash draws and plays Island, plays Syndicate Enforcer.
T5 Return draws and plays Mountain, attacks with Decoy blocked by Syndicate Enforcer, Return plays Rootborn Defenses.
T5 Gatecrash draws Watery Grave, plays Forest, plays Ogre Slumlord.
T6 Return draws Jarad’s Orders, plays Inspiration drawing Mountain and Swamp, plays Mountain.
T6 Gatecrash draws Swamp, plays Watery Grave tapped, attacks with Slumlord (17-20), plays Mindeye Drake.
T7 Return draws and plays Chromatic Lantern, plays Swamp, plays Annihilating Fire targeting and exiling Ogre Slumlord.
T7 Gatecrash draws and plays Mountain, attacks with Drake (15-20), plays Ghor-Clan Rampager.
T8 Return draws and plays Island, plays Armada Wurm putting a 5/5 green Wurm creature token with trample onto the battlefield.
T8 Gatecrash draws and plays Stolen Identity targeting Armada Wurm putting an Armada Wurm token onto the battlefield on Gatecrash’s side as well as a 5/5 green Wurm creature token with trample onto the battlefield, Gatecrash encodes Stolen Identity onto Mindeye Drake, attacks with Drake (13-20), cipher triggers and Gatecrash plays a copy of Stolen Identity making a token copy of Armada Wurm and a 5/5 green Wurm token with trample.
T9 Return draws Armory Guard, plays Jarad’s Orders searching his library and revealing two creature spells putting Necropolis Regent into his hand and putting Terrus Wurm into his graveyard, plays Necropolis Regent.
T9 Gatecrash draws Undercity Plague, plays Swamp, plays Clan Defiance with X=6 targeting Necropolis Regent and Return’s 5/5 Wurm token and Return (7-20), attacks with Mindeye Drake and two Armada Wurm tokens and two 5/5 Wurm tokens and Ghor-Clan Rampager, Armada Wurm blocks Armada Wurm token, Decoy blocks Rampager (-10 -20).
GATECRASH WINS GAME FOUR ON TURN 9, TIES MATCH 2-2
T1 Return keeps Forest, Plains, Swamp, Phantom General, Archweaver, Rakdos Charm and Seller of Songbirds. Plays Plains.
T1 Gatecrash keeps two Forests, Gift of Orzhova, Clan Defiance, Murder Investigation, Greenside Watcher and Wojek Halberdiers. Plays Forest.
T2 Return draws Plains, plays Forest.
T2 Gatecrash draws Duskmantle Seer, plays Forest, plays Greenside Watcher.
T3 Return draws Civic Saber, plays Swamp, plays Seller of Songbirds putting a 1/1 white Bird creature token with flying onto the battlefield.
T3 Gatecrash draws and plays Plains, plays Murder Investigation enchanting Greenside Watcher, attacks with Watcher blocked by Seller of Songbirds, Watcher triggers when it dies putting two 1/1 white Soldier creature tokens onto the battlefield.
T4 Return draws Cryptborn Horror, plays Plains, plays Phantom General, attacks with Bird token (20-18).
T4 Gatecrash draws Scorchwatcher.
T5 Return draws and plays Sluiceway Scorpion, attacks with Bird token (20-16).
T5 Gatecrash draws Pit Fight.
T6 Return draws and plays Island, plays Civic Saber, equips Saber to Scorpion, attacks with Scorpion and General and Bird token, Soldier tokens block Scorpion and General, Gatecrash plays Pit Fight targeting Soldier token blocking General and Sluiceway Scorpion (20-14).
T6 Gatecrash draws Way of the Thief.
T7 Return draws and plays Azor’s Elocutors, attacks with General and Bird token (20-10).
T7 Gatecrash draws Gutter Skulk.
T8 Elocutors triggers and gets a filibuster counter, Return draws and plays Swamp, equips Saber to Elocutors, attacks with Elocutors and General and Bird token (20-1), plays Cryptborn Horror, Horror enters the battlefield with nine +1/+1 counters.
T8 Gatecrash draws Urban Evolution, CONCEDES.
RETURN TO RAVNICA WINS GAME FIVE ON TURN 8, LEADS MATCH 3-2
T1 Gatecrash keeps Forest, Plains, Domri Rade, Alms Beast, Legion Loyalist, Drakewing Krasis and Knight Watch. Plays Forest.
T1 Return keeps two Islands, Forest, Plains, Loxodon Smiter, Paralyzing Grasp and Chaos Imps. Draws and plays Golgari Guildgate.
T2 Gatecrash draws and plays Swamp.
T2 Return draws Dreadbore, plays Plains.
T3 Gatecrash draws Swamp, plays Plains.
T3 Return draws Guttersnipe, plays Island, plays Loxodon Smiter.
T4 Gatecrash draws Glaring Spotlight, plays Swamp, plays Alms Beast.
T4 Return draws and plays Island.
T5 Gatecrash draws and plays Mountain, attacks with Beast (14-20), plays Knight Watch putting two 2/2 white Knight creature tokens with vigilance onto the battlefield.
T5 Return draws Dead Reveler, plays Forest, plays Paralyzing Grasp enchanting Alms Beast.
T6 Gatecrash draws and plays Mountain, plays Legion Loyalist, plays Domri Rade, adds a counter to Domri Rade looking at the top card of his library and returning Naturalize to the top of his library.
T6 Return draws and plays Codex Shredder, plays Island, plays Dead Reveler.
T7 Gatecrash draws Naturalize, adds a counter to Domri Rade looking at the top card of his library (Forest), plays Naturalize targeting Codex Shredder, Return activates Codex milling Arrest into his own graveyard, Gatecrash plays Glaring Spotlight.
T7 Return draws and plays Island.
T8 Gatecrash draws and plays Forest, adds a counter to Domri Rade looking at the top card of his library (Frenzied Tilling).
T8 Return draws and plays Swamp.
T9 Gatecrash draws Frenzied Tilling, adds a counter to Domri Rade looking at the top card of his library (Verdant Haven), plays Frenzied Tilling targeting Golgari Guildgate and searching his library putting an Island onto the battlefield tapped.
T9 Return draws and plays Coursers’ Accord putting two 3/3 green Centaur creature tokens onto the battlefield.
T10 Gatecrash draws Foundry Champion, adds a counter to Domri Rade looking at the top card of his library (Swamp), plays Drakewing Krasis.
T10 Return draws Guild Feud.
T11 Gatecrash draws and plays Swamp, adds a counter to Domri Rade looking at the top card of his library revealing and putting Towering Thunderfist into his hand, plays Towering Thunderfist, attacks with Drakewing Krasis (11-20).
T11 Return draws and plays Swamp.
T12 Gatecrash draws and plays Plains, adds a counter to Domri Rade looking at the top card of his library revealing and putting Angelic Skirmisher into his hand, plays Angelic Skirmisher, declares attack, Skirmisher triggers and Gatecrash chooses lifelink, attacks with Krasis (8-23).
T12 Return draws and plays Mountain, plays Dreadbore targeting and destroying Domri Rade.
T13 Gatecrash draws and plays Mountain, declares attack, Skirmisher triggers and Gatecrash chooses lifelink, attacks with Krasis and Skirmisher (1-30), plays Foundry Champion, Champion triggers when he enters the battlefield and Gatecrash chooses to target Return (-6 -30).
GATECRASH WINS GAME SIX ON TURN 13, TIES MATCH 3-3
T1 Return keeps Mountain, Forest, Rootborn Defenses, Batterhorn, Heroes’ Reunion, Zanikev Locust and Mizzium Mortars. Plays Mountain.
T1 Gatecrash keeps two Forests, Plains, Mountain, Island, Obzedat, Ghost Council and Bomber Corps. Draws and plays Plains.
T2 Return draws Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius, plays Forest.
T2 Gatecrash draws Plains, plays Mountain, plays Bomber Corps.
T3 Return draws Cremate.
T3 Gatecrash draws Beckon Apparition, plays Forest, attacks with Corps (19-20).
T4 Return draws and plays Plains.
T4 Gatecrash draws Forest, plays Island, attacks with Corps (18-20).
T5 Return draws Izzet Charm, plays Heroes’ Reunion (25-20).
T5 Gatecrash draws Orzhov Charm, plays Plains, attacks with Corps (24-20).
T6 Return draws Street Sweeper, discards Cremate, at end of turn Gatecrash plays Beckon Apparition exiling Cremate from Return’s graveyard and putting a 1/1 black and white Spirit creature token with flying onto the battlefield.
T6 Gatecrash draws and plays Orzhov Keyrune, plays Forest, attacks with Corps and Spirit token (22-20).
T7 Return draws and plays Swamp.
T7 Gatecrash draws and plays Plains, attacks with Spirit token and Bomber Corps (20-20).
T8 Return draws and plays Swamp, plays Batterhorn targeting and destroying Orzhov Keyrune, Gatecrash responds playing Orzhov Charm targeting and destroying Batterhorn (20-17).
T8 Gatecrash draws and plays Mountain, attacks with Spirit token and Corps (18-17).
T9 Return draws Frostburn Weird.
T9 Gatecrash draws and plays Swamp, attacks with Bomber Corps and Spirit token (16-17).
T10 Return draws Carnival Steed, discards Frostburn Weird.
T10 Gatecrash draws Nimbus Swimmer, plays Forest, attacks with Corps and Spirit token (14-17), plays Nimbus Swimmer with X=8, Swimmer enters the battlefield with 8 +1/+1 counters.
T11 Return draws and discards Counterflux.
T11 Gatecrash draws and plays Razortip Whip, attacks with Bomber Corps and Spirit token and Nimbus Swimmer, Corps triggers targeting Return (13-17), combat damage happens (3-17).
T12 Return draws and plays Island, CONCEDES.
GATECRASH WINS GAME SEVEN ON TURN 12, WINS MATCH 4-3
I wish I could tell you that the kinds of colored mana problems that were experienced in these seven games were not normal, but I have to admit they are. Full Set Singleton decks are, basically by definition, five colored decks, and when you play all five colors you can expect to have some difficulties drawing a needed color from time to time. There are lots of ways to try and make Full Set Singleton play more smoothly, but each requires changing the rules of Magic. An easy one is to allow each player to draw two cards for their turn instead of the usual one card. I’ve tried a lot of other variants as well, but I prefer simply adding enough basic land for each color and shuffling up. Every time you change the basic rules of the game you gain something and you lose something. I would rather test sets against each other using the regular rules of Magic. These rules, unfortunately, include getting color-deprived and mana screwed occasionally.
Full Set Singleton – Ironman Series
In this version of FSS, you play a series of games that only ends when one of the two decks is run completely out of cards. At the end of each game, all cards in the graveyard, in play, on the stack or in the hand are exiled. I like this variant because it gives each set access to any particular card in one and only one game. I also like that there is no additional set up required between games. No additional shuffling. You can use this variant to play any number of games, whatever you and your opponent agree to before beginning. In the name of completeness, I played an Ironman Series in which I played games between Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash until one of the sets ran out of cards.
In game one Return started with two Swamps and two Islands in hand and played Desecration Demon on turn four. It looked like it would be an easy win for Return until Gatecrash started attacking with Syndic of Tithes with Undercity Plague encoded on it. Return was down to only one Swamp in play with its Demon, and down to six life when Gatecrash was forced to sacrifice Syndic of Tithes to keep the Demon from killing him. Even then, Gatecrash almost survived. With nine lands in play but no creatures in hand to play and sacrifice to Desecration Demon, Gatecrash played Serene Remembrance and then responded by playing Scatter Arc to counter Remembrance and draw a card. The card drawn was Unexpected Results. Gatecrash played Unexpected Results but only hit a land. Return to Ravnica leads the series 1-0. Return to Ravnica used 17 cards, Gatecrash used 19 cards.
Return gets ahead in game two when Gatecrash is stuck on two land for several turns. Gatecrash felt pretty good about having Skarrg Guildmage on turn two before enduring a five turn land drought. Return made an early Frostburn Weird that continually outfoxed Skarrg Guildmage. When Gatecrash got a third land, an Island, he was forced to play Hydroform to turn his Mountain into a 3/3 in order to double block Frostburn Weird. Return sees that Gatecrash is land screwed and trades his Weird for the 3/3 land. When Return attacks later with Stealer of Secrets and a 3/3 Centaur token and Wild Beastmaster, Gatecrash soaks up seven damage and goes to one life in order to block and kill Beastmaster with Skarrg Guildmage, still his only creature in play. It looks like it’s all over when Return draws and plays Axebane Stag. Return has three creatures and Gatecrash has only one with one life left, what could Gatecrash possibly play? Guardian of the Gateless looks like a good answer before Return plays Mizzium Mortars overloaded to clear the way for the win. Return to Ravnica used 20 cards and leads the series 2-0. Gatecrash used 18 cards.
In game three Gatecrash continues to have trouble getting mana, or at least the right colors of mana. Both decks play a Keyrune on turn three, but Return plays Vandalblast destroying Dimir Keyrune. Return makes things worse for Gatecrash by playing Survey the Wreckage a turn later to destroy Gatecrash’s Plains leaving Gatecrash with only three Islands for mana. It’s quite a while before Gatecrash draws another land and plays Millennial Gargoyle. The gargoyle is exiled by Detention Sphere a turn later. Return was greatly helped by Mana Bloom but was sad not to play Angel of Serenity, in his hand at the end of the game. Return to Ravnica used 19 cards and leads the series 3-0. Gatecrash used 19 cards.
Game four starts well for Gatecrash, Shambleshark on turn two followed by Zameck Guildmage on turn three. Land, again, is an issue. Meanwhile, Return keeps an opening hand with five lands, Tenement Crasher and Archon of the Triumvirate. Those are almost the only cards Return needs. Return attacks with Archon and Crasher and Rakdos Shred-Freak on turn eight dropping Gatecrash down to one life. Gatecrash draws a card and concedes on his next turn with five land in play. Return to Ravnica used 15 cards and leads the series 4-0. Gatecrash used 16.
Gatecrash FINALLY gets a win in game five. Playing Alms Beast on turn four was obviously a promising start. Return had already gotten in three damage by then with his turn two Brushstrider. Gatecrash sacrifices five life on turn five playing Vizkopa Confessor. He looks at Return’s five card hand and gets rid of Street Spasm leaving Augur Spree and Traitorous Instinct in his hand. Return draws a Mountain on the next turn and gets rid of Confessor with Augur Spree allowing Brushstrider to get in one more time. Return has one more turn to draw a creature that, teamed with Brushstrider, can block and kill Alms Beast, but such a creature fails to arrive. Gatecrash used 14 cards and trails the series 1-4. Return to Ravnica used 16 cards.
Mana problems return for Gatecrash in game six. Return plays Rubbleback Rhino on turn five, Goblin Rally on turn six and Minotaur Aggressor on turn seven to win the game on turn eight. Burning-Tree Emissary is the only creature Gatecrash manages to produce with the five mana he had in play for his last three turns. Return to Ravnica used 14 cards and leads the series 5-1. Gatecrash used 15 cards.
Gatecrash never gets his feet under him in game seven, while Return to Ravnica fixes his mana perfectly on turn four with Seek the Horizon. Return wins with Soulsworn Spirit followed up by Archweaver. Gatecrash plays only one creature, Nimbus Swimmer, and loses the game with Gruul Ragebeast and Zhur-Taa Swine still in his hand. Return to Ravnica used 18 cards and leads the series 6-1. Gatecrash used 15 cards.
Return crushes Gatecrash in game eight with Deathrite Shaman, Selesnya Sentry and Bazaar Krovod followed by Grove of the Guardian. Once again, Gatecrash has little to defend himself with. Turn two Firefist Striker is joined only very late in the game by Shadow Alley Denizen and Simic Fluxmage. In this game, mana was not the problem for Gatecrash, the problem was the quality of cards drawn. Return to Ravnica used 15 cards and leads the series 7-1. Gatecrash used 15 cards.
Gatecrash gets a good win in game nine thanks to Aurelia, the Warleader arriving on turn nine. Return was slow to draw land, but still held on defensively with Ogre Jailbreaker (no Guildgate) and Lobber Crew. Aurelia breaks the game wide open for Gatecrash. Gatecrash used 18 cards and trails the series 2-7. Return to Ravnica used 21 cards.
Game ten looked like it would belong to Gatecrash. Deathpact Angel arrived on the board on turn six joined by Hellkite Tyrant two turns later. Return, on the other hand, had no mana problems with Transguild Promenade and Steam Vents arriving early in the game. Return had Gobbling Ooze and Catacomb Slug. More importantly, Return had Ultimate Price for the dragon and Trostani’s Judgment for the angel. Return to Ravnica used 17 cards and leads the series 8-2. Gatecrash used 17 cards.
Gatecrash takes game eleven on the back of Giant Adephage. Both decks underwhelmed in the early game, but each did a good job of putting out lands turn after turn. Return had some early advantage with Inspiration and the first creature of the game, Nivix Guildmage. Even when Adephage first hit the battlefield, Return had a chance. Return had enough creatures to block and kill Adephage but would, unfortunately, have to allow a single point of trample damage that would create another Adephage in token form. Return drew Abrupt Decay the next turn, meaning he could have double-blocked Adephage and traded taking a little trample damage and then played Abrupt Decay to get rid of the token. Gatecrash used 23 cards and trails the series 3-8. Return to Ravnica used 22 cards.
Return gets a great start in game twelve with turn two Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage, but Gatecrash immediately shrugged it away with Devour Flesh. Gatecrash feels good playing Horror of the Dim on turn five not knowing that Return would counter with Necropolis Regent on turn six. Gatecrash did not find an answer for Regent, but did some damage to Return’s library. Mindeye Drake blocked and died from Regent’s first attack milling five cards into Return’s graveyard. Then Gatecrash played Paranoid Delusions milling three more cards, including the infamous Pack Rat, into Return’s yard. Three hacks with Horror of the Dim lowered Return to eleven life points by the time that Return attacked with a 24/23 Necropolis Regent for the win. At the end of the game Return to Ravnica has just under half its deck remaining while Gatecrash has just over half of its deck remaining. Return to Ravnica used 33 cards and leads the series 9-3. Gatecrash used only 16 cards.
Gatecrash exacts a tiny bit of revenge in game thirteen, going all the way with Spire Tracer. Actually, the Spire Tracer didn’t do ALL the damage. A good bit of it was dealt by Shadow Slice before and after it was encoded onto the Spire Tracer. Return managed only black, blue and red mana and only two meager creatures, Slitherhead and Goblin Electromancer. Gatecrash used 14 cards and trails the series 4-9. Return to Ravnica used 14.
In game fourteen, Gatecrash bravely handled Risen Sanctuary with One Thousand Lashes but eventually lost to Sewer Shambler and Judge’s Familiar. Gatecrash ended the game with no blue mana sources in play but with several blue cards in hand. Gatecrash also had Sylvan Primordial and Obzedat, Ghost Council in his hand without a second green mana source or a second white mana source. Return to Ravnica used 22 cards and leads the series 10-4. Gatecrash used 21 cards.
With only a few hundred cards left in his library, Return makes good use of Jarad’s Orders searching his library for Carnival Hellsteed and Zanikev Locust. Gatecrash gets Locust out of Return’s graveyard with Beckon Apparition, but Hellsteed goes the distance. Gatecrash gives his Spirit token (from Beckon Apparition) protection from multicolored with Guildscorn Ward, but it’s no good when Return plays Arrest enchanting the token on his next turn. Return to Ravnica used 17 cards and leads the series 11-4. Gatecrash used 15 cards.
Game sixteen got rather nasty. Gatecrash cleared the board with Merciless Eviction and also got each player new four-card hands with Whispering Madness, but Return had the last laugh with Palisade Giant and then Conjured Currency. This play trumped Gatecrash’s post-Eviction play of Angelic Skirmisher. Return to Ravnica used 32 cards and leads the series 12-4. Gatecrash used 28 cards.
Gatecrash suffered from a fatal power-outage in game seventeen. After playing Forest, Swamp and another Forest on turns one through three, Gatecrash didn’t draw another land until turn seven while at five life with no creatures in play. The game ends with Gatecrash holding Gift of Orzhova, Borborygmos and two different Guildmages he wasn’t able to play. Return gained a big advantage when he played Thoughtflare but really won the game on the back of an unleashed Bloodfray Giant. Return to Ravnica used 18 cards and leads the series 13-4. Gatecrash used 14 cards.
Gatecrash crushes Return in a very one-sided romp in game eighteen thanks to Assemble the Legion. Plagued many times in this series with bad mana, Gatecrash played a different basic land on each of his first five turns. Gatecrash used 16 cards and trails the series 5-13. Return to Ravnica used 16 cards.
Return to Ravnica has 73 cards remaining, Gatecrash has 111.
Gatecrash goes a nice run and wins two games in a row for the first time in the series. Gatecrash plays Ruination Wurm on turn six and adds Knight of Obligation a turn later. Meanwhile, Return plays Codex Shredder on turn one and immediately starts milling himself. Return’s goal is to play the fewest possible games before running out of cards. Essentially, Return is trying to “run out the clock” before Gatecrash can catch up in the series. Gatecrash used 16 cards and trails the series 6-13. Return to Ravnica used 25 cards.
Return removes any doubt of its dominance in this series by churning out muscular, mono colored creatures like Terrus Wurm, Volatile Rig and Sphinx of the Chimes. Gatecrash had Executioner’s Swing, which it used to kill Volatile Rig after being hit by it. The coin flip went the wrong way for Gatecrash, dealing four points to each player and creature. Of course, four damage, or even Executioner’s Swing’s -5/-5, is not enough to kill Sphinx of the Chimes. Return to Ravnica used 17 cards and leads the series 14-6. Gatecrash used 17 cards.
Gatecrash keeps the dream alive with a solid win in game twenty-one countering Golgari Longlegs with Foundry Champion and Frontline Medic. Debtor’s Pulpit is the card that gives Gatecrash the upper hand for good. Gatecrash used 15 cards and trails the series 7-14. Return to Ravnica used 15 cards.
Return puts an end to things in game twenty-two when it plays Grisly Salvage at the end of Gatecrash’s sixth turn in order to cycle through the last three cards of his library. Return loses the game when he is unable to draw a card for the turn. Gatecrash wins the game but Return to Ravnica wins the series 14-8.
In this series of games, Gatecrash seemed to be at a marked disadvantage when it came to getting the proper colors for its spells. Are Gatecrash’s spells harder to play? Do they more often require multiple colors of mana than Return to Ravnica? Return to Ravnica has 28 spells, for example, whose mana cost includes only white mana symbols. There are 27 in Gatecrash. Both sets also have three hybrid spells for each of the five guilds featured in it. There are 90 spells in Return to Ravnica that contain two colored mana symbols in their casting cost, 13 others include at least three. Playing the Ironman Series noted above, I would have been sure that there must be more cards with higher mana intensities in their casting cost in Gatecrash. Sorry, no. Gatecrash contains… 90 spells that contain two colored mana symbols in their casting cost, 14 others include at least three.
I’m going to tell you what this means, but you may not like it. It means that Return to Ravnica’s dominance in the twenty-two game Ironman Series above may have been due simply to luck. You can live with that, can’t you? That’s the beauty of Magic. Nothing is solved, once and for all, by playing one deck against another. A single game will never tell the whole story, and even a hundred games may not reveal all of one deck’s strength and another’s weaknesses. The goal of this article, and the others that I write regarding this weird format that I invented, is to tell you which set is better, or at least tell you a way to find out. I can’t put either of these sets above the other based on the results I have seen so far. This is a kind of answer, though, because the chatter around the campfire has been that Gatecrash is a weaker set than Return to Ravnica. I can assure it is not. I believe you will agree if you explore further. Full Set Singleton might be one way you could explore this comparison.
I have a few play tips that I have learned from playing these games. In a competition between these two 414 card decks, I suggest being aggressive with the use of unleash. It’s a no-brainer when you play Thrill-Kill Assassin on turn two against an empty Gatecrash board that you should unleash that bad boy! This is a solid advantage for Rakdos that I don’t think either of Gatecrash’s aggressive guilds, Gruul and Boros, can match.
The battle between Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash is not over. I’m diving into another Ironman Series right now, as a matter of fact. I would like to say this about these very limited results that I have been able to show you in this article: I’m very glad to see that Gatecrash indeed holds its own against Return to Ravnica. I had an emotional feeling, from the prerelease weekend, that Gatecrash might be the weaker of the two. A lot of other players felt the same way. I’m more poet than scientist, I assure you, but I’m proud and happy to stand here today telling you that there is a *more* scientific approach to determining which set is better. In chemistry, we can mix stuff together. In mathematics, we can do equations. In Magic, we can battle. Full Set Singleton gives us the right tool for battling sets against each other.
Thanks for reading.
Level II DCI Judge
Zanman on Magic Online