Prismatic in the Ravnica Era

Posted in Feature on November 28, 2005

By Doug Beyer

Senior creative designer on Magic's creative team and lover of writing and worldbuilding. Doug blogs about Magic flavor and story at

Prismatic has just entered the Atomic Age.

Every time a set comes out, it's like a whole new set of scientific discoveries, discoveries that contribute either little modern conveniences or sweeping technological advances to the format. Odyssey brought the steam power of graveyard-active cards. Onslaught added the coal technology of landcycling. Champions of Kamigawa was the petroleum fuel of amazing mana fixing.

Ravnica is nuclear power. It split the atom. It opens up new fields of study and new sources of energy after some Presence of the Master had a brainstorm.

I know I'm hopping up and down on the metaphor. But it's that revolutionary.

Now, the effect on the Prismatic metagame might be subtle at first. The Ravnica spoiler teems with fun cards to stick into your Prismatic deck, and you may initially be hard-pressed to notice any significant power difference as people add Prismatic goodies to their collections. But there are some mechanics and individual cards in this set that will grow to become staples of the format—or find their way on the banned list. Today I'll be looking at these potent goodies and discussing what possibilities they offer for your Prismatic decks, and pointing out what changes the atomic-powered Ravnica may bring the future of our favorite format.

Important: Doug does not speak for R&D

It's important to note at this point that, while I am an employee of Wizards of the Coast, I am not a member of R&D, and I do not make decisions regarding the Prismatic banned list. My job at Wizards is web developer—I am simply a fan of Prismatic and I do not know what R&D's plans are, if any, about Ravnica cards in the format. While I discuss the issue of bannings in this article, I am in no way speaking for R&D and I will be just as curious to see what effects Ravnica has on the Prismatic banned list, if any, as you are.

A Pit Stop: Tutors and Prismatic

Let's step back a moment and talk about inconsistency. Part of the point of both Prismatic's 250-card minimum deck size and its five-color requirements is to encourage inconsistency. You get to fill your deck with the most bombtastic bombs available in Magic Online, yet the format doesn't degenerate into turn-two, three-card, game-over combos. With that 250-card, five-color library, you're very unlikely to draw those three perfect combo cards and have the correct mana to cast them. This keeps the format kooky and fun—sometimes your deck comes out of the blocks like a finely-tuned Ferrari, rumbling with powerful spells and the proper mana to hurl them opponentward; and sometimes it behaves like a nigh-dead jalopy, coughing up a goofy mixture of Rampant Growths, cycling lands, and a mana myr, and eventually keeling over. It's that variation that we look for in, and love about, Prismatic.

However, one type of spell can squash this randomness almost out of existence: the “tutor”—a card that lets you search your library (or collection) for just the card you need. Most of the cards banned in Prismatic (such as Diabolic Tutor, the Wishes, and Eladamri's Call) are tutors. The other cards banned in Prismatic are cards that effectively end the game as soon as you draw and cast them (Sundering Titan, Upheaval, Rude Awakening)—these cards would also squash the usual Prismatic variety of games into dreary sameness.

Now, some of the cards that qualify as tutors in the Magic Online card pool are restricted enough that they don't pose a power or boringness problem in Prismatic. If a card can only fetch you a narrow class of cards, R&D has seen fit to let it slide. Eerie Procession only gets you an Arcane spell, for example. Steelshaper's Gift only gets equipment. Diabolic Intent forces you to sacrifice a creature. Trinket Mage almost reads “search your library for a card named Sensei's Divining Top, reveal it, and put it into your hand”—good, but still not game over. Fierce Empath might be the best tutor in the format, and it can only get you a 6-or-more-mana creature in hand along with a 1/1.

Ravnica's Tutoring Powers

Ravnica represents some of the most powerful tutoring a Magic set has ever seen. In the coming weeks and months, I'm sure R&D will have their eye on how Ravnica changes Prismatic, especially when it comes to how its tutors turn out in the fun department. In the meantime, let's run down the conspicuous library-searchers and compare them to tutors both banned and legal.

Chord of Calling. This card fetches a creature and drops it onto the board for . The banned Eladamri's Call is much cheaper, but note that the essentially nine-mana Tooth and Nail is also banned in Prismatic. Chord of Calling has Tooth's advantage of putting the creature directly into play, overcoming tough mana costs that you might find on Faceless Butcher or Lightning Angel if you can spare the . The fact that it's an instant is huge as well—an instant-speed Flametongue Kavu is much more likely to take down two creatures when it appears during the time between your opponent's declare attackers step and your own declare blockers. This card may prove an annoying powerhouse or merely a great trick for deploying utility creatures.

Congregation at Dawn

Congregation at Dawn. This card searches for three creatures and puts them on top of your library for . It can become a stream of threats, an arsenal of utility, or both—consider a stack of Phyrexian Rager, Nekrataal, and Eternal Witness. I've found, however, that I'd rather not lock in my next three draw phases with creatures, and so it becomes an overpriced Worldly Tutor. Even that, however, is pretty good. With the variety of creatures available to us in Prismatic, this card can single-handedly turn into an avalanche of momentum by taking the randomness out of your next one, two or three draws.

Three Dreams. The three-aura tutor. The other cards that let you tutor for multiple cards -- Gifts Ungiven, Buried Alive and Quiet Speculation -- are all banned. Three Dreams is probably of lesser power, however, even with the multitalented auras available now in Prismatic such as Galvanic Arc and Persuasion. Auras require you to have creature targets for them, are generally playable only at sorcery speed, and create the potential for 2-for-1 card disadvantage should your opponent kill that Armadillo Cloaked Trinket Mage. Still, you've already drawn three cards of your choice from your deck for a very splashable .

Sunforger. Equipment is already a strong card type in Prismatic for the way it turns utility creatures, mana elves, previously dropped man-lands and other random creature draws into a consistent fighting force. For three mana to play and three to equip, a +4/+0 bonus already turns the odd Solemn Simulacrum or Nantuko Monastery into a fearsome threat, often straining your opponent's removal by forcing him to choose between the equipment and the creature wielding it. But it's Sunforger's tutoring ability that puts exclamation points above a Prismatic player's head—and it's not just tutoring, but repeatable tutoring along with the free playing of the tutored-for card. With a properly-stocked library, one lowly Nantuko Vigilante can pick up and put down that Sunforger over and over, each time plucking out the perfect answer to whatever your opponent spends his mana on, and meanwhile hitting for damage turn after turn. Burn your chump-blocker with Lightning Helix at the end of your turn; untap, equip Sunforger, swing for 7. Destroy your Cage of Hands with Seed Spark; untap, equip Sunforger, swing for 7. With enough mana fed into it, this magic maul can turn into a one-card engine that can turn around the game or simply end it in your favor.

These are some amazing tutors that have found their way into the Prismatic cardpool. If any of them end up getting themselves banned in Prismatic, they may be shown the door even if they are not particularly overpowered on their own, but because they would contribute to the overall number of good-but-not-broken tutors available in the format.

Which brings us to transmute.

Transmute in Prismatic

Cards with House Dimir's transmute mechanic let you tutor for any card of the same converted mana cost. The transmute cost is always 1CC, either , or , and it can only be played as a sorcery. The thirteen cards that have the mechanic are as follows:

  1. Brainspoil
  2. Clutch of the Undercity
  3. Dimir House Guard
  4. Dimir Infiltrator
  5. Dimir Machinations
  6. Dizzy Spell
  7. Drift of Phantasms
  8. Ethereal Usher
  9. Grozoth
  10. Muddle the Mixture
  11. Netherborn Phalanx
  12. Perplex
  13. Shred Memory

The transmute mechanic adds thirteen library-searchers to the format. Is the mechanic itself too strong for Prismatic? After some serious study (which means, building a bunch of Prismatic decks and playing them—yeah, life is hard), I'm not sure it's too powerful—and I'm pretty sure it's fun. Let's look at how best to use transmute in Prismatic, and you can judge for yourself.

Deckbuilding with Transmute: Anticipating Needs

The transmute ability lets you search your deck for any card with the same converted mana cost as the transmuted card. The mana cost is not prohibitive: it's always one generic mana and two colored. But transmuting isn't like cycling a Krosan Tusker at end of turn, then untapping and using your new toys; it's only playable whenever you could play a sorcery. This slows down the mechanic a bit—you'll often want to transmute only when necessary, and otherwise you're better off spending your mana on other castable spells already in your hand. But there's still quite a bit of power to transmute.


So far I've found that the decision to transmute during a game of Prismatic means one of three things: one, you're against the ropes and scrambling for a solution to something nasty; two, your mana is undeveloped and you need a way to ramp up or color-fix your mana to cast spells in your hand; or three, the game-state is stable, you've got time and mana to spare, and you're looking to win the game. Essentially, you're looking for either an answer, a threat (and see my article on Prismatic control decks for more detail on answers and threats), or mana-fixing. If you're considering adding transmute cards to your Prismatic deck, you'll need to anticipate these three needs and build the rest of your deck accordingly.

Preparing your deck so that you can transmute for mana and threats is generally easy. If you've played much Prismatic, you're already running both mana-fixing and efficient creatures to play in the early goings of the game, and the one- to three-mana transmute cards can get you to them easily. If you're already at four mana and up, you're probably in less need for mana-fixing, and you're probably already deploying threats at a steady rate. But answers—cards that disrupt your opponent's strategies and drain his resources—may take a bit more forethought.

To this end, I've built a “need vs. cost” chart. Each column of the chart represents a type of card I've wanted to tutor for, and each row is cards of a transmutable converted mana cost. The first two columns are examples of mana-fixing spells and game-winning threats—if you drew Dimir Infiltrator and needed mana-fixing, for example, you could transmute it into Sakura-Tribe Elder. If you drew Brainspoil but really just needed a way to win the game, you could transmute it into Genju of the Realm and get the hurt on.

The rest of the chart is mostly types of answers—ways to blow up the bad things on your opponent's side of the line and stop his overall strategy. It's very common for you to want a way to kill one or more creatures, for example, so there are columns for pinpoint creature removal and for mass creature removal. But Prismatic is also full of harder-to-deal-with menaces such as Mirari's Wake, Crystal Shard, or Eternal Dragon, so it also includes columns for artifact/enchantment removal and for cards that deal with graveyard recursion. Okay, hit 'em with the chart already!

  Mana-fixing Threats Pinpoint creature removal Mass creature removal Artifact and enchantment removal Graveyard removal Card advantage
1 mana: Dizzy Spell Weathered Wayfarer, Terrarion Fireball, Isamaru, Hound of Konda Reciprocate, Firebolt Earthquake, Hail of Arrows Oxidize, Demystify Scrabbling Claws, Coffin Purge Sensei's Divining Top, Skeletal Scrying
2 mana: Shred Memory, Muddle the Mixture, Dimir Infiltrator Sakura-Tribe Elder, Farseek Wild Mongrel, Gaea's Skyfolk Terminate, Reprisal Pyroclasm, Starstorm Hull Breach, Naturalize Withered Wretch, Reito Lantern Life from the Loam, Isochron Scepter
3 mana: Drift of Phantasms, Dimir Machinations, Perplex Kodama's Reach, Spectral Searchlight Psychatog, Granite Shard Rend Flesh, Putrefy Oblivion Stone, Pernicious Deed Vindicate, Terashi's Grasp Gravegouger, Reminisce Bloodletter Quill, Thirst for Knowledge
4 mana: Dimir House Guard, Clutch of the Undercity Explosive Vegetation, Solemn Simulacrum Mystic Enforcer, Ninja of the Deep Hours Flametongue Kavu, Eradicate Wrath of God, Hideous Laughter Seed Spark, Nantuko Vigilante Mourner's Shield, Mnemonic Nexus Fact or Fiction, Etched Oracle
5 mana: Brainspoil Frenzied Tilling, Mirari's Wake Arc-Slogger, Genju of the Realm Ribbons of Night, Persuasion Rout, Dregs of Sorrow Rain of Rust   Allied Strategies, Mind's Eye
6 mana: Ethereal Usher Elvish Aberration, Twisted Abomination Rith, the Awakener, Triskelion Duplicant, Betrayal of Flesh Akroma's Vengeance, Solar Tide Looming Hoverguard, Confiscate   Opportunity, Arcanis the Omnipotent
9 mana: Grozoth   Bringer of the Whatever Dawn, Dragonstorm Volley of Boulders, Searing Wind Plague Wind, Kuro, Pitlord     Bringer of the Blue Dawn, Myojin of Life's Web

The cards in the chart are just examples—as a five-color format spanning six blocks, Prismatic offers plenty of goodies at most converted mana costs, especially from two to four. But it's a huge chart—how can you integrate transmute smoothly into a Prismatic deck?

Choose either black or blue. One strategy might be to run only black or blue transmute cards. One of the difficulties in using transmute effectively is being able to cast your tutored-for card immediately: try transmuting Shred Memory into a needed Withered Wretch—that's ! If you only run black transmute spells, for example, you can emphasize black in your mana base, and de-emphasize black in your transmute toolbox, so you stand a better chance of being able to transmute and cast smoothly.

Choose one or two converted mana cost slots. You could almost fill your 250 slots with only transmute targets if you ran all thirteen transmute spells. And some of the transmute spells have more useful targets than others. So why not emphasize only one or two converted mana cost? Stick with CMC 2 for early game utility targets, and 5 for more dramatic late-game spells. Or just go with the 3-mana sweet spot.

Stick with the cheaper transmute spells. Transmuting for a spell that costs more than three, and then casting it in the same turn, can get pretty mana-intensive. You might try steering clear of Ethereal Usher in favor of Dimir Infiltrator and Perplex. And even though Prismatic is a relatively slow format, 9 mana is still a lot—still, I'd love to try running Grozoth sometime.

Here's a deck that tries to split the difference between several tutoring toolboxes: it's got 2- and 3-mana transmute targets, Sunforger targets, Fierce Empath targets, and Trinket Mage targets. Want to know whether heavy tutoring wins Prismatic games? Give this deck a spin.

Transmute 23 Skidoo!

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But wait, there's more

All this library-searching is certainly head-spinning for us Prismatic players. But tutoring is not the only Atomic-Age development that Ravnica offers. Let's look at one more advanced mechanic and some individual cards that hold promise for the format.

Dredge: Grave Threats

What Eternal Witness, Black mages, and the entire Odyssey block have known for years, Prismatic is still learning: the graveyard is a great place to keep your stuff. If your biggest hurdle to winning the game is your opponent killing all your creatures, why not use creatures that enjoy dying? Graveyard-friendly mechanics like flashback and cycling are already big hits in Prismatic, and dredge enhances those strategies while presenting a powerful new twist.

"If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."
- Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Knight and inspiration for the Judgment Incarnations

Almost every removal spell, from Flametongue Kavu to Putrefy, makes the assumption that the zone of concern is in play. Your opponent will usually be worried about your creatures turning sideways and knocking their power numbers off their life total, so he'll be packing flexible and powerful removal for anything with a toughness value.

Shambling Shell

But the Golgari guild brings us a new way to wear down, or evade entirely, that sort of removal. Let's look at the deceptively simple Shambling Shell. A 3/1 might not be the most durable creature in the format, but one that just won't stay down, and one that gives out little +1/+1 packages of joy as it dies repeatedly, is a force to be reckoned with. Your opponent's normally efficient removal spells now only trade with the first incarnation of your 3/1, leaving you the option of drawing it as many times, plus one, as your opponent manages to kill it.

Now tack on the ability to fill your graveyard as it does its dirty work, and you've got a beatdown machine, a creature-pumper, and a card selection engine all in one efficient three-mana package. In fact, the most powerful facet of a dredge card might not be its effect of replacing your draw with itself, but its cost -- of milling yourself of a set number of cards, for zero mana and almost at will.

Dredge cards can create a synergistic alliance with Odyssey block mechanics such as flashback, threshold, and Incarnations, and other Prismatic mainstays such as Eternal Witness, Pyre Zombie, and Oversold Cemetery. Use Stinkweed Imp to trade with your opponent's rampaging Etched Oracle, then fill your graveyard with Deep Analysis and Angers. Cast increasingly larger Golgari Grave-Trolls while stocking the bin with Roar of the Wurm and tasty targets for Gravedigger. Take a page from the Pro Tour and combine Life from the Loam with cycling lands and Onslaught fetchlands (and after December 5th, Mirage fetchlands!) to create a sick card-drawing engine that, for the cost of a cycled Barren Moor, can leap to the safety of your hand in response to a Nezumi Graverobber activation. Or pick apart your opponent's hand with a steady assault of Nightmare Voids until you're ready to drop a game-winning threat.

And dig this, House Dimir -- our decks are 250 cards or bigger! We can dredge with impunity without worrying about running out of library! I've seen Prismatic mages Traumatize themselves for the benefits of an extremely well-stocked graveyard; this format offers unique opportunities to abuse a runaway Golgari Grave-Troll that never even sees play.

I think you'll see a lot of dredge in Prismatic games to come. As a sample, here's a dredge-intensive Prismatic deck for the budget-minded, featuring zero rare cards.

Budget Dredge

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The Rest of the Ravnica Lineup

Ravnica offers delectable treats in all the other accepted areas of treat-categorization.

Mana-fixing. As the herald of the return of gold cards, Ravnica offers plenty of ways to fix your mana. Enough can't be said about the power of the Ravnica duals (Sacred Foundry, Temple Garden, Overgrown Tomb, and Watery Grave). Even if you never use their ability to come into play untapped, Prismatic offers so many ways to search for them, you may never need a set of four. Search for them with the Onslaught fetchlands. Search for them with landcyclers. Search for them with Wood Elves. Search for them in multiples with Gift of Estates or Krosan Verge. Ravnica even offers the handy Farseek, which can get you any color you need if you have one of each in your deck.

Dimir Aqueduct

If the cost of the new duals has you down, the common bouncelands (Boros Garrison, Selesnya Sanctuary, Golgari Rot Farm, and Dimir Aqueduct) are quite handy for fixing your mana, bringing you two colors for the cost of a short wait. It's important to give these lands serious consideration in Prismatic -- it can be hard to appreciate the kind of advantages they confer. It's not only about the two colors of mana in one card -- it's two actual mana in one card. Two lands in your opening hand, including one of these bouncelands, means getting to the often-crucial three-mana mark with only two cards, which allows you to keep more hands and fix your mana along the way.

Ravnica also offers Civic Wayfinder, a sort of beefier cousin to Sakura-Tribe Elder, or a slightly cheaper and more straightforward Solemn Simulacrum. He only fetches a basic land, only puts that land into your hand instead of into play, and doesn't draw you a card when he dies—but I must confess, I love Civic Wayfinder. He's just the sort of solid card I love to draw—he develops your board with a warm body and develops your mana at the same time, all for a reasonable price tag. In the same vein, Spectral Searchlight trades Darksteel Ingot's indestructibility for the potential to ping your opponent for a few points of mana burn here and there—along with the guild signets and Terrarion, it's a dependable addition to the Prismatic artifact-mana lineup.

And did you know Birds of Paradise was reprinted in Ravnica? Yeah, I thought you may have heard.

Removal and card-drawing. The City of Guilds also brings us lovely ways to blow things up and draw us into our game-winners. Prismatic players are always looking for flexible removal at a cheap price, and Putrefy doesn't get much better, supplementing (or kicking to the curb) both Rend Flesh and Naturalize for cheap, instant-speed creature/artifact removal. There's also Seed Spark which may get the nod over Orim's Thunder or Dismantling Blow as ways to get card advantage while taking out a Honden. I'm already fond of Ribbons of Night as a lovely way to shred an attacking opponent's momentum and dig for the light at the end of the tunnel.

For fans of full hands, there's the flexible Consult the Necrosages or Compulsive Research. I think you'll see more and more of Bloodletter Quill and Bottled Cloister in Prismatic, and some Prismatic decks will be able to take advantage of swingy card-drawers like Flow of Ideas and Primordial Sage.

Firemane Angel

The beatdown. Then, of course, there's the new beasties to add to your creature mix. The guildmages are all high-quality tricksters and good attackers for a cheap and flexible-to-cast price. I'm especially interested in Dimir Guildmage and Golgari Guildmage for their late-game potential, but Selesnya Guildmage's army-creation and Boros Guildmage's Lightning Greaves-like haste-granting can also help you bust through going long. Dimir Cutpurse offers a new-fangled variation on the Ninja of the Deep Hours or Thieving Magpie, and can really run wild on Prismatic's often-empty board.

But it's not all cheap, compact weenies. Tipping the other end of the scales are such game-winners as Mindleech Mass, Firemane Angel, and Gleancrawler. These heavy hitters join the ranks of Dragons, Bringers, and Pit-Fighter Legends as ways to pose a very serious question that your opponent's hand better have an answer for, and quick. I've even got a mind to try out Szadek, Lord of Secrets… Didn't Gottlieb have a Prismatic milling deck sometime?

Atom-Smashing Fun

I think you'll have fun with Prismatic's new capabilities with Ravnica. We may all be playing with fire for a time, in the Wild West days before R&D and the Prismatic community discover whether any Ravnica cards are just not appropriate for the format. But for now—run anything you want, and enjoy atomic-powered Prismatic!

Postscript: (Almost) Mono-Color Prismatic Decks?

As an aside, I've seen more than one player in the Casual Room try an almost mono-color Prismatic deck. How is that possible? By playing an extremely—and I mean extremely—large deck (and by using cycling cards and other tricks to “feel” as mono-color as possible), you can minimize your off-color spell requirements and bulk up on your main color. It's a fun idea—you get to run one color of mana almost exclusively, and you'll discover advantages of consistency and speed over a deck that actually expects to cast spells of all five colors. The drawback is that you'll have to run a tremendous number of spells in that one color to effectively dilute down the ratios of your other eighty colored spells. Here's a shot at a “Prismatic White Weenie” deck I built that weighs in at over 800 cards—and I'm pretty sure it still needs to be bigger in order to feel more consistently mono-white. Still, I get to play Dawn Elemental in Prismatic! Have fun!

The 800-Pound Albino Gorilla

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4 Arcbound Slith 4 Auriok Champion 4 Auriok Glaivemaster 4 Aven Cloudchaser 4 Barkhide Mauler 4 Benalish Trapper 4 Benevolent Bodyguard 4 Boros Guildmage 4 Boros Swiftblade 4 Cathodion 4 Celestial Kirin 4 Chartooth Cougar 4 Daru Cavalier 4 Dawn Elemental 4 Disciple of Grace 4 Diving Griffin 4 Eight-and-a-Half-Tails 4 Elvish Aberration 4 Emissary of Hope 4 Eternal Dragon 4 Exalted Angel 4 Galina's Knight 4 Gempalm Avenger 4 Goblin Legionnaire 4 Gravedigger 4 Gustcloak Harrier 4 Hand of Honor 4 Intrepid Hero 4 Isamaru, Hound of Konda 4 Juggernaut 4 Kabuto Moth 4 Kami of Ancient Law 4 Keeneye Aven 4 Kentaro, the Smiling Cat 4 Krosan Tusker 4 Lantern Kami 4 Leonin Shikari 4 Leonin Skyhunter 4 Leonin Squire 4 Lieutenant Kirtar 4 Lightning Angel 4 Llanowar Knight 4 Longbow Archer 4 Master Decoy 4 Meddling Mage 4 Moonwing Moth 4 Mystic Crusader 4 Mystic Visionary 4 Ninja of the Deep Hours 4 Noble Templar 4 Obsidian Acolyte 4 Paladin en-Vec 4 Pegasus Charger 4 Phantom Nomad 4 Pianna, Nomad Captain 4 Planar Guide 4 Samurai of the Pale Curtain 4 Savannah Lions 4 Selesnya Guildmage 4 Sensei Golden-Tail 4 Shoreline Ranger 4 Silver Knight 4 Skyhunter Cub 4 Skyhunter Skirmisher 4 Slith Ascendant 4 Solemn Simulacrum 4 Soulcatcher 4 Spectral Lynx 4 Standard Bearer 4 Stoic Champion 4 Suntail Hawk 4 Taj-Nar Swordsmith 4 Thundersong Trumpeter 4 Trinket Mage 4 Twisted Abomination 4 Veteran Armorer 4 Veteran Cavalier 4 Watchwolf 4 Weathered Wayfarer 4 Whipcorder 4 White Knight 4 Wingbeat Warrior 4 Wirewood Guardian
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