Guild or No Guild?
Ravnica is the City of Guilds. Power over the city-plane is vied for by ten guilds, each with its own agenda and philosophies. Yet of the 636 cards released in the Ravnica block, only about half of them are directly affiliated with one of the guilds. All of the cards containing a guild’s keyword are obviously representative of one particular guild. So are the two-color gold cards, the hybrid mana cards, the off-color activation cards, and the spells enhanced by a second color. Additionally, each guild has three lands and a couple artifacts to call its own. But what about the rest of the set? It’s evident that some cards clearly belong to one guild or another. Others spurn all the guilds and live only to serve themselves. So now, it’s time to look at the lost cards in the block and find out where they belong.
To complete the extensive task of sorting all the non-guilded chaff of the Ravnica block, some guidelines must be put into place. What are the clues that will lead me to surmise the affiliation of a particular card? What takes precedence when determining a creature’s allegiance or a spell’s origin?
First and foremost, the card itself is a great indicator of which guild it fits into. The name, art and mechanic all contain little clues to the card’s guild. Where available, the creature type and flavor text can also provide some valuable insight. Taking the whole package and weighing the more convincing clues should provide enough evidence to definitively place most cards in one of the guilds, or at least allow us to see that it clearly belongs on its own.
If none of that works, then it’s time to use the resources provided outside the actual cards. Three times a week, an article appears on MTG.com, written by an employee of Wizards of the Coast. Mark Rosewater’s design column helps define the guilds, in both flavor and function. It helps group mechanics into the guilds by using the guild’s means and motivation to determine where those mechanics belong. Matt Cavotta’s Taste the Magic deals solely with the flavor. His stories and philosophies provide greater insight into how the guilds operate. Aaron Forsythe’s development column shows where the cards come from mechanically. Certain mono-colored cards actually evolved from guilded cards, but still retain the philosophy of the guild. In addition to these three regular columns, Rei Nakazawa writes columns for each set, explaining the world around it while Doug Beyer or Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar explain the origin of the flavor text. Each of these articles provide little insights into the set and where the non-guilded cards belong.
So where do all these cards end up? Obviously, there are the ten guilds, which will lay claim to most of the cards. But there are also adamantly independent cards, that clearly belong on their own. For this reason, I have decided to sort all the cards in Ravnica into twelve total categories, as follows:
The Selesnya Conclave is the guild of unity and group togetherness. The convoke mechanic shows how all the members of the guild work together to either bring in new members, strengthen their existing members, or wipe out everyone who isn’t puny like they are. Seeing how these cards work, it is safe to assume that other Selesnya cards will work to strengthen their brethren and emphasize cooperation.
When examining cards for signs of Selesnyan Allegiance, these philosophical and mechanical values will also translate onto the art of the card. The most commonly used symbol for the Selesnya is the tree. Trees represent structured growth and group welfare. They are providers to the living things around them, giving food and shelter to animals. Finding the symbol of a life-giving tree on other cards is a strong reason to believe that they are part of the Conclave.
Another way to identify members of the Conclave is by looking at the creature types associated with it. A brief scan of all the definite Selesnya cards shows that Elves, Dryads and Centaurs make up a majority of the Guild (excluding humans, who are found in all the guilds). Additionally, Selesnyans are the best at creating Saprolings, are the only guild to ride wolves and pegasi, and have distinct armor for their wurms. They are also affiliated with other typical green, white and cross-color creatures, such as elementals, elephants, plants, and spirits.
The Golgari is the guild of regeneration. Black and green are the two best colors for bringing things back from the dead and that philosophy is certainly embraced in the dredge mechanic. For the price of a few future resources, the Golgari will take back that useful creature or spell and keep using it and using it and using it until they destroy their enemies. To see how this manifests itself on non-Golgari-specific cards, it is important to realize that motivation plays a key factor in how the life-preserving system works. As much as the green side enjoys turning death into life, the black side makes sure that it does so only for its own benefit – or at least for the detriment of others.
Looking towards identifiable art, Golgari has a strong leaning towards rot and decay. Seeing rotting flesh falling off a creature is a sure sign that they’ve been revived (or killed) with some help from the Golgari. Aesthetics are not a high priority, meaning that there’s a good chance that the more disgusting-looking cards are a part of the guild.
Focusing on creatures, elves are prominent among the Golgari. Unlike the Selesnyan elves, though, with their nice white robes and clean appearances, the Golgari elves have a very dark look and use their elf magic for more sinister purposes. Insects, zombies and plants are also well-represented, but anything that can die can come back as a part of this guild. For this reason, the other creature types in the guild include Lizards, Trolls, Imps, Beasts, Wurms, Hounds, Elementals, Horrors, and of course, a lovely trio of Gorgons.
Dimir is supposed to be the guild of secrecy, but its mechanic, transmute requires quite a bit of revelation. For this reason, I tie it much more closely to the guild of mind games. The Dimir can use their magic to enhance their own knowledge, as with transmutable cards. But they can also use it to reduce their enemies’ knowledge and cause madness, through extensive milling strategies.
Of course, flavorfully, the Dimir guild is still the guild of secrecy. Their cards are associated with darkness and shadows. They operate at night and seek knowledge through subterfuge. For this reason, the guild is represented symbolically by an eye and a spider, as seen on the signet. Together, they represent the manner in which the Dimir operate, lurking in the corner, but always watching carefully to find ways to exploit their enemies.
The Dimir’s most recognizable creatures are vampires. In addition to Szadek, the guild leader, the Dimir are also associated with the Moroii. The Dimir are not represented by many creatures, but Skeletons and Spirits make up a large portion of the guild’s membership. Other creatures linked to the guild include a shapeshifter, a leviathan, a couple of horrors and almost any zombie that can fly.
Boros is the soldier guild. Sure, almost every guild has soldiers, but the Boros’s blend of white’s regimented military and red’s brutal aggression make it the ideal guild for a Ravnican army. Boros cards focus on combat and although many radiance cards do not actually affect combat in any way, others, like Rally the Righteous and Wojek Siren, show what the guild is all about.
The overlying theme of the Boros Legion is justified aggression. If the cause is righteous, then violent action is acceptable. This leads to a theme of cleansing through fire, as is seen on cards like Brightflame and Cleansing Beam. Of course, the most obvious symbol of the Boros is the fist, so anywhere a fist shows up, it is almost guaranteed to be a sign of the Boros.
Although the Boros utilize a number of different creatures, almost all of them are soldiers. The Boros are all about fighting, so whether they’re using humans, goblins or giants, they’ll be armored up and fighting. The Boros also have minotaurs in their ranks. Although Ordruun Commando is the only minotaur in Ravnica, these creatures are featured in the art on a number of Boros cards, such as Rally the Righteous and Master Warcraft. Other creatures fighting for the Boros include angels, knights, rocs, and griffins. And let’s not forget about the Boros-specific elementals called Flame-Kin.
Gruul is the guild of mindless destruction. If something is being smashed, it’s probably the work of the Gruul. They subscribe to a lifestyle of savagery and an anti-establishment mentality. But the reasoning behind this behavior does not go much further than simply ensuring survival by following instinctive behavior. The bloodthirst mechanic reveals how the Gruul just like to keep attacking and attacking. The more attacking they do, the stronger they become.
Much like the Selesnya, one of the Gruul’s symbols is the tree. But unlike the Selesnya, the Gruul do not embrace the tree for its life-giving purposes, but instead for its ability to burn. Members of the Gruul clans are attracted to burning bushes, not for a glimpse of the divine, but because fire is fun and they eagerly anticipate seeing the charred remains of the flammable plant. The Gruul’s structure, if you can call it that, is based upon a loose confederation of independent clans. These clans provide yet another clue to finding the Gruul, with their distinctive names, such as Burning-Tree, Scab-Clan, Ghor-Clan and Skarrgan.
The population of the Gruul consists of all the fiercest, mindless creatures of Ravnica. Goblins and Wurms are found in high numbers and every affiliated Viashino is a member of the Gruul. Lacking the structure of the Boros, most of the fighting forces of the Gruul are classified as berserkers instead of soldiers, implying a more roguish, freelancing style of death and destruction. Of course, the Gruul are all about huge monsters and savage fighters, so their numbers include a variety of other creatures including centaurs, elementals, insects (the big kind), ogres, giants, beasts, hydras, a phoenix and a cyclops.
The Izzet are the mad scientists of Ravnica. Their goal is knowledge, but their path to this knowledge is hardly conventional. In fact, they’ll take any path necessary to gain knowledge or invent something new or make something work. It doesn’t matter if the end result is even useful. But once something is working, they won’t stop doing it. Hence the replicate mechanic.
The Izzet is hardly a guild of subtlety and, as such, finding clues of the guild’s presence is not a very taxing job. Words like “flectomancer,” “schismotivate,” and “vacuumelt” are dead giveaways that they originated somewhere inside an Izzet laboratory. Additionally, any word containing the letters “IZZ” is almost guaranteed to be of Izzet origin, as well as anything referencing both fire and mind. Izzet also have a distinct classification of scientists dealing with time in their chronarchs.
Izzet members are mostly wizards. Izzet soldiers can be seen on some cards, but by and large, the guild is not into the whole “combat” thing. So the brains of the Izzet are in the wizards, who create Izzet minions in weirds. Every weird is sure to be affiliated with the Izzet guild. Among the less common creatures are faeries, ogres, drakes, djinni, goblins and the dragon who leads the guild.
The Orzhov is the guild of corruption. Through the guise of religion, they seek power, keeping the unfortunate down to raise themselves higher. One of the common mechanical themes running through the Orzhov is that of the slow bleeding of their enemies. Cards that deal slow damage or suck life for personal gain are almost surely affiliated with the Orzhov. Additionally, they have a strong connection to the afterlife, which the haunt mechanic is based around.
The Orzhov are symbolized in a star. I’m not entirely sure why, but that’s the way it is. It shows up on their signet and on their banners and sometimes on their clothing. Other identifiable characteristics of the Orzhov are their strong connection to ghosts and their penchant for greed.
The most powerful members of the Orzhov are either humans or ghosts. Both are identifiable by their pasty grey complexion and dead, yet not rotting look. These Orzhov leaders control the vast majority of the guild, which consists primarily of Bats, Thrulls and Gargoyles. There is also a smattering of other creatures, including an angel, an assassin and a vampire skeleton.
The Azorius are all about rules. Rules and restrictions. It’s control in the worst way – the bureaucratic kind. Translating this flavor into mechanics reveals that any blue or white card restricting another’s abilities is a very likely candidate to be affiliated with the Azorius. Of course, the forecast mechanic has nothing to do with this flavor, except for the fact that it’s restricted to being played during your upkeep and only once per upkeep. I wonder whether that choice was made on purpose.
The symbol of the Azorius Senate is the triangle. Perhaps there’s something going on inside the senate that they aren’t telling us about. I could try reaching for some sort of Greek society analogy, but it’s probably not worth exploring since the triangle doesn’t show up often outside of the guild’s signet. Azorius senators do dress like senators of ancient times, forgoing modern suits and ties for more flowing garments. The foot soldiers (many of which are called Hussar) of the Azorius wear bulky, rounded armor that makes them look like fat, neckless blobs.
The Azorius consist of a lot of creatures commonly found in blue and white, like griffins, vedalken, birds, and knights. Like all the guilds, they have their humans and spirits, as well. Two other creatures of the Azorius are a cat and a sphinx. They’re both pretty rare, though.
The Simic are all about improving the quality of life. Not the actual quality of the lives of people, mind you, but the physical properties of the life in Ravnica. For this purpose, they attach gross little blobs of goo to any creature they can get their hands on. These blobs of goo manifest themselves in the graft mechanic and help link all the grafted creatures, so they can better serve one another.
Water, being both a sign of life and a sign of change, is a strong symbol to the Simic. Blue is the typical color of water, but none of the other blue guilds really embrace water as one of the important aspects of their philosophy. Therefore the Simic is the water guild, using the substance to cultivate their little experiments. But the Simic also embrace the other blue element – air. Throwing some air beneath the power of green allows the Simic to create monstrous flying creatures, like the zeppelids.
For the Simic, identifying creatures is really easy and really hard. If it’s a mutant, the Simic probably touched it. But the Simic aren’t afraid to touch anything, leaving them with a rainbow of associated creature types. A few of the more common Simic test subjects include beasts, snakes, frogs and elementals, but anything is fair game. And just like any green guild, elves are behind the scenes making a lot of these mutants possible in the first place.
The final guild is the Rakdos, the cross section of black and red. Rakdos live for killing, but their motivation does not go far beyond the shear sadistic glee that comes from taking a life. Unlike the Gruul, who focus on destruction, the Rakdos focus much more on pain and death. While the Gruul enjoy watching things blow up, the Rakdos enjoy watching them suffer. The Rakdos enjoy it so much, in fact, that they revel even in their own destruction. This self-sacrificial mentality is translated into the hellbent mechanic. The Rakdos are very short-sighted will do anything for a little more chaos, even if it hurts themselves.
The Rakdos symbol, as seen on their signet, is a flaming skull, but I don’t think that image best represents them. The Rakdos are all about blood. Yes, I know that the Gruul’s keyword is bloodthirst, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Bloody mayhem and senseless death are what drives the Rakdos… drives them like a car over a cliff, but drives them nonetheless. This lemming mentality helps us classify Rakdos as a cult and as such, cards alluding to cultish rituals will be firmly in the Rakdos camp.
The bulk of the non-human Rakdos population is found in rats, ogres and zombies. It also includes any other horrid little creatures like goblins, thrulls, imps, shades, and the second-ever devil in Magic. It also has its share of monsters, with a dragon, a horror, and a demon.
The Cult of Yore
Ah, what is the Cult of Yore? If you haven’t read Matt Cavotta’s column on it, then you have much to learn. The Cult of Yore is a band of independent citizens of Ravnica who long for the olden days, before the signing of the Guildpact. They despise the sprawl of the city and wish to bring it back to its natural roots of wildlife and freedom. Disgusting, isn’t it?
Anyway, a druid from the Cult of Yore is only quoted two times in the flavor text of Magic cards, but that doesn’t mean we can’t infer a dozen other affiliations to this band of dissidents. Using Matt’s column, in addition to the motivation of the group, many other cards can be associated with the Cult of Yore. The desire to let nature prevail over technology implies that the Cult is almost entirely comprised of green members, casting green spells. Although they have no official symbols or uniforms, the Cult of Yore is very much a part of Ravnica and has a very healthy membership.
As much as it pains me to say it, not everyone in Ravnica has an allegiance to anyone but themselves. These are the citizens who openly denounce the guildpact and intentionally go their own way and make their own rules in the city. How they survive without the protection of numbers, I have no idea, but somehow they have found a way. For that, they get to remain independent and continue thinking for themselves. But it’s still important to point them out and ridicule them.
So concludes the first part of this fourteen-part series of Governing the Guildless. Tune in next time when the Golgari lay claim to the cards that should have been theirs.