FifteenFrom across my desk, I hear a whisper. “Open me...oooopen meee...” Oh no. I look down. It’s the booster pack again.
I know the voice is only my imagination, but my gaze is drawn, as if by an Izzet electromagnet, to the glossy blue-and-indigo foil of the Return to Ravnica booster. The wrapper crinkles invitingly under my touch. The Selesnyan mage adorning the package seems to beckon.
Opening a booster pack is one of the purest thrills in the game of Magic: The Gathering. Whether it’s the indigo trim of my Return to Ravnica booster, the silvery white of Avacyn Restored, or the jet-black of Magic 2013, every expansion set’s booster packs bundle fifteen randomized cards in crisp foil wrapping: eleven common cards, three uncommons, and most precious of all, one rare. The rarity distribution is more or less constant, and the cards are all from the same expansion, but the exact contents are always a mystery.
Return to Ravnica is Magic’s newest expansion, released earlier this month. Back in 2005, when I was still new to the game, Wizards of the Coast released Ravnica: City of Guilds: a set that took place in a world where one sprawling, ecumenopolitan cityscape covered the entire globe, and society was controlled by ten “guilds”, each representing two of the game’s five colors. It was wildly successful, both critically and commercially. Now, seven years later, Ravnica is still one of the most beloved settings in Magic’s history, and as of this month, the long-awaited sequel to City of Guilds has finally arrived to bring the guilds to a new generation of planeswalkers. Return to Ravnica features five of the ten guilds from the original. The other five are slated for Gatecrash, the followup expansion to be released this winter. All of them are eagerly courting fresh recruits. Join the white-blue Azorius Senate, Ravnica’s bureaucratic legislative guild! How about the blue-red Izzet League, a guild of mad scientists notorious for their explosive experiments? Perhaps you’re more interested in the black-red Cult of Rakdos, where the success of a wild party is measured by its body count. Or do you prefer the black-green Golgari Swarm, caretakers of both life and death?
I know where my loyalty lies: with the Selesnya Conclave, the green-white guild dedicated to harmony and unity. So when the time came to choose a side for the Return to Ravnica prerelease — a special event to celebrate the unveiling of the new set — I already knew exactly which guild I’d be playing. Sure enough, I shuffled up a green and white deck (with a splash of blue) filled to the brim with efficient creatures ready to overwhelm my foes. And for good measure, I signed up for a second flight later that same day. After battling through eight rounds for the glory of the Conclave, I stood strong with a 7-1 record. Hardly daring to breathe, I hovered tremulously near the counter where prizes would be paid out. Finally, my name was called: twelve packs. Twelve. Twelve packs. Twelve honest-to-goodness Return to Ravnica booster packs.
But today, there’s only one booster pack on my mind. Just one of the twelve. Once again it whispers: “Go on...you know you want to...ooopen meeee...”
Opening a booster pack is a gamble. As long as it’s unopened, its value is fixed — it’s a solid $4 no matter what’s inside. But once I crack it, I’m stuck with whatever I’ve got. I could end up with a powerful land card like Overgrown Tomb or Hallowed Fountain. I could be the lucky recipient of a rare and valuable planeswalker card like Jace, Architect of Thought. Or... or I could open a useless junk card like Guild Feud, Search the City, or Volatile Rig. There’s plenty of space in between, of course — a mid-tier rare like Loxodon Smiter might be worth around the same price as the original booster it came in. Not the most exciting card to pull, but it’s better than whiffing.
My hands itch. My pulse quickens. I want to rip the foil off of that booster pack and flip straight to the rare. I can already hear the crinkling. I can smell the fresh fragrance of ink and glue. I can sense the cards inside calling to me, begging me, pleading for me to release them into the world. It’s no use resisting. I don’t have the strength to hold back. I can’t...I have to...I...
The wrapper is torn. Tenderly, I tug the cards from their broken shell. One at a time, I inspect the spoils.
The commons are always in front. The first is Drainpipe Vermin: a dinky little rat. Worthless.
Swift Justice: a white spell that powers up a creature temporarily. Unexciting.
Horncaller’s Chant: a green sorcery that summons two enormous, trampling rhinos. Meh.
Chemister’s Trick: an Izzet confusion spell that can be overloaded to cause mass panic. Eh...
Golgari Longlegs: a simple, boring creature with reasonable stats, but no abilities.
Axebane Guardian: a druid that grants its caster additional mana. Useful, perhaps, in a deck with expensive spells like Horncaller’s Chant.
Keening Apparition: an efficiently-costed creature who can sacrifice itself to dispel an enemy enchantment. Could be worse.
Viashino Racketeer: a shady back-alley salesman who trades a card in your hand for a random one from your deck.
Sewer Shambler and Drudge Beetle: two Golgari monsters that can rise from the grave after being defeated.
Eleven commons, none of them particularly interesting. Here come the three uncommons. Soul Tithe. Ouch, that’s a weak card. It has a few interesting rules interactions, but I’d never put it into my deck.
Slitherhead. Hmm, not too bad, I suppose. It’s another Golgari zombie that can buff a creature from beyond the grave.
Bloodfray Giant. That’s one of the Rakdos Cult’s heavy hitters. Monstrous stats at a bargain price. Unfortunately, it’s not very good at playing defense.
There’s also a basic Forest with beautiful new artwork by John Avon, and an advertisement insert pointing me to the Planeswalker Points website. But that’s not important. It’s time for the moment of truth. The rare. Is it a hit? Is it a miss? It’s...
I toss what’s left of the foil wrapping into the trash. It croaks out one final, mocking crinkle. The cards will probably languish in a shoebox. Search the City will get an obligatory place in my Junk Rare Box, yearning in vain for the day it finds a real home. I hold out little hope that such a day will arrive. The adrenaline rush is over; the booster pack is gone.
From across the room, I hear eleven more whispers...