First Look: Ravnica Allegiance Future Future League

Posted in Play Design on February 8, 2019

By Andrew Brown

Welcome to First Look! This will be a repeating column every quarterly release (similar to the M-Files) where Play Design will share decklists and their thought processes from the Future Future League focus period of the most recent set. The FFL focus period is the three months during set design where we handle most of the competitive balance tweaks to the card file.

Last time, I was a bit crunched on other work, so I asked (forced) my good friend and colleague Michael Majors to take over for me on Guilds of Ravnica's First Look. But I'm back in action and ready to get to some decks!

First Ravnica vs. Second Ravnica Set

Shock lands are exciting cards—they open so many possibilities in Standard by allowing strong mana bases. Guilds of Ravnica (GRN) brought the rerelease of the first five shock lands, and while this does open lots of mana possibilities, there are still some color combinations left out. The Ravnica Allegiance (RNA) guilds and three-color combinations like Mardu (red-white-black) and Bant (green-white-blue) didn't have as complete of mana bases as their GRN counterparts. But the release of RNA now completes two full sets of powerful dual lands in the shock lands and "buddy" lands.

When playtesting in GRN, we operated under the philosophy that there would be some three-color decks, but without the full cycle of lands, two-color guild decks would be at the forefront of the format. After introducing RNA into our Future Future League (FFL) environment, it was clear that the full cycle of lands made three-color mana bases stronger. Not only did we have to test the new cards, we also needed to look back in time and see how the new mana bases opened up strategies from the past!


I am a control mage at heart. The introduction of Hallowed Fountain made me super excited to counter some spells and kill some creatures. Nothing makes me happier than casting Absorbs and Mortifys.

FFL Esper Control

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The biggest additions to this deck other than Hallowed Fountain and Godless Shrine are Kaya's Wrath and Absorb. Going into RNA FFL we wanted to try introducing a four-mana wrath to the environment, and Orzhov (white-black) felt like the perfect place to put it. This year in Standard, we are leaning heavier on color requirements given the overall power level of the mana base. We didn't want to do a harder-to-cast wrath, so we added a line of text that synergizes well with and speaks to the Orzhov mechanic, afterlife.

There was discussion and hot debate over whether Absorb or Sinister Sabotage is stronger in a control deck. There are good sides to each argument. Sinister Sabotage can filter your draws and is easier to cast. Absorb can pull you out of sticky situations and mitigates some of the damage received from the three-color mana base. In the end, it doesn't matter who is right or wrong; these debates are what make Magic fun to think about. We also like offering different cards that do relatively the same thing at the same power level. This can allow cards to be stronger for certain metagames and make deck building a more fun experience.


Hero of Precinct One is one of my favorite cards in Ravnica Allegiance, it sends you on a deck-building challenge to find cool and powerful cards. What could be better?

FFL Mardu

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With Rakdos (black-red) and Orzhov (white-black) coming into the environment, we saw that there was a great chance to introduce an "Aristocrats" deck. An Aristocrats deck, in Magic lingo, is as a small-creature deck that takes advantage of sacrifice effects.

Players who love playing Aristocrats decks enjoy complex problems and board states. While Hero of Precinct One is my favorite angle for an Aristocrats-style deck, there are so many ways to do it. We introduced a large number of cards so that the player can customize and spend tons of time figuring out the perfect build. You can play Abzan (white-black-green) to splash Vraska, Golgari Queen and have stronger mana. You can lean into Gruesome Menagerie with self-mill and more sacrifice outlets. The format is your oyster!


My favorite Bant deck in Ravnica Allegiance is easily the Pod-style deck (named after Birthing Pod). Prime Speaker Vannifar was one of the most fun cards for us to test in FFL. Just like with Aristocrat decks, the possibilities for creativity are endless!

FFL Bant Pod

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One interesting thing that happens when making Magic cards is sometimes you weaken a card in order to make it stronger. We do this often in Limited and Constructed alike. Let's say we have a synergy-driven Limited archetype where nobody has successfully drafted that deck. One thing we might do is weaken the generically powerful cards that are supposed to go in that deck. This will allow those cards in the draft to get picked later and get to the synergy player.

This happened to Prime Speaker Vannifar for Constructed. The original design for Prime Speaker Vannifar was a 3/4. We identified that Militia Bugler was a good way to consistently dig for pieces while being a creature. Therefore, we made Prime Speaker Vannifar a 2/4. Creature toolbox decks are always hungry for redundancy and ways to find their engine.

I'll be back once War of the Spark rolls around to share some of my favorite Future Future League decks from the WAR FFL focus period. In the meantime, I'll be at most West Coast (best coast) Magic events. Come say hi!


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