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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Mar 31 2016 11:00am
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Welcome back to the Modern Flashback Series! This article goes in depth and already has run a bit long, so let's dive right in!
The final set in the Ravnica block is Dissension, and it introduces the final three guilds: Azorius (WU), Rakdos (BR) and Simic (GU). Of the three sets in the block, the mechanics in Dissension are the best designed, as there's nothing as bland as Radiance or complex as Haunt, and all three of the guild mechanics fit the theme of their guilds well. The guild mechanics aren't the only themes of the set though—Dissension brings back split cards for the first time since Invasion block, the original gold set. In addition, the set has more cards than the average (for the time) small set, meaning those split cards don't kick out other cards like the Nephilim did in Guildpact. Now let's look at those mechanics in detail.
Steeling Stance Skyscribing Plumes of Peace
Apparently all sets taking place on Ravnica must have at least one mechanic built around slowly grinding out card advantage, and Forecast is that mechanic for Dissension. This is the most direct way to card advantage, as you can get small effects without spending any cards. While these aren't the most impactful effects (especially at lower rarities), even something small like a Steeling Stance is good when you don't have to spend a card on it. While some of the cards just give a smaller or one-time version of what casting the spell would be, others work as a combo, such as Plumes of Peace tapping down a creature with its Forecast ability that you can lock down by casting the spell. This gives the spells a lot of flexibility.
Gobhobbler Rats Cackling Flames Ragamuffyn
On the opposite end of the spectrum from the Azorius and Forecast, the Rakdos are so reckless they want you to play without any cards in hand. This is obviously a perilous place to be in (especially if you're trying to play multiple colors and possibly getting cards stuck in your hand), but the good part is that the Hellbent ability doesn't cost much on most cards, and the cards are generally worth it on their own (such as Cackling Flames and Gobhobbler Rats). In general, permanents with Hellbent are much better than spells with Hellbent, as permanents can just wait to be turned on, while the spells have to be the last card in your hand. I also don't think enablers for Hellbent are worth it, since you only have one pack of Rakdos spells to build around.
Aquastrand Spider Helium Squirter Simic Basilisk
As GU is one of the strangest color pairs, the Simic mechanic is one of the strangest as well. Graft allows you to spread benefits around to all your creatures, pairing the ability to give a permanent boost to all your creatures, along with giving keyword abilities to those creatures. While this is a noble goal (and grafting onto normal creatures is certainly something you will do, especially with only one pack of Graft creatures), the best case for Graft involves combining Graft creatures so you don't have to bother with moving counters around to get all the abilities. For that matter, the counters don't have to come from Graft—Bloodthirst synergizes well with Graft, and there are a surprising number of Golgari cards that give counters (though most are black as well as green). One mechanical thing to note: Graft allows you move counters onto your opponent's creatures (and you can grant abilities to any creature with a +1/+1 counter), but that only really matters for a couple of cards (Cytoplast Manipulator most importantly, though Experiment Kraj, Plaxcaster Frogling, and even Helium Squirter have fringe uses). If you don't have any of those, a setting was added to MTGO along with Modern Masters 2015 allowing you to auto-yield specifically to grafting on your opponent's creatures, which can save a lot of clicking.
Supply/Demand Hit/Run Pure/Simple
Split Cards:
The return of split cards is a splashy one, as the return of split cards is the debut of gold split cards. The split cards are divided into two cycles: an uncommon cycle with two allied color pairs (meaning one for each shard) and a rare cycle with two enemy colored pairs (one for each wedge). This is interesting since it's the only source of gold cards for each guild outside of the guild's “home set”. The halves generally fall into two camps (especially for the uncommon cycle): following the theme of the guild (Supply, Trial, Run) or doing things with multicolor cards (Demand, Error, Pure), but even though a lot of these effects are narrow, the flexibility of split cards makes them powerful in general.
Freewind Equenaut Patagia Viper Aurora Eidolon
Other Themes:
The one surprise of Dissension is how committed to its main themes it is, and how the enchantment theme falls to the wayside. The only two non-rares that care about being enchanted are Freewind Equenaut and Flaring Flame-Kin, and other than that the only scent of an enchantment theme would be a random Haazda Exonerator destroying Auras. The one other new thing is that the gold-adjacent spells (the cards that get extra effects when you use both colors of the guild) are done in the weirdest way in the block so far. While I didn't mention it in the previous articles, Ravnica's gold-adjacent cards are all instants or sorceries with an added effect (Ribbons of Night), while Guildpact had all creatures with an added spell effect (Tin Street Hooligan). However, Dissension's gold-adjacent cards are all spells with an added creature—but due to the relative complexity of the creatures, all of them are creatures with an enters-the-battlefield effect that sacrifice themselves if the adjacent color wasn't paid. This can be confusing at first glance, both in sorting the cards and in looking at the cards themselves (the color of the cards corresponds to the spell, so you get things like a green flier or red creature with Fear). The final cycle are the Eidolons, which are all 2/2's for 4 that sacrifice for a spell effect, but return to your hand whenever you play a gold spell.
One more time through the colors for Ravnica, but let's check where all the color pairs (and a couple three-color combinations) are through Guildpact:
Blue/Black (Dimir): Card advantage, but not much else
Red/Green (Gruul): Conflicted between ramp and aggro
Green/White (Selesnya): Token swarm, very focused in Ravnica
White/Black (Orzhov): Raw card quality, kinda grindy
Blue/Red (Izzet): Meant to be spells, but pure value is better
Black/Green (Golgari): Grindy, but average creatures
Red/White (Boros): “Go wide” aggro, focused in Ravnica
White/Blue: Control and/or fliers
Black/Red: Still awful
Green/Blue: Ramp
Red/Green/White: Very, very aggressive
Green/White/Black: Very grindy, lots of card quality
Carom Guardian of the Guildpact Mistral Charger
Commons Uncommons
White has two notable commons: Carom is an easy two-for-one and possible three-for-one, which seems insane for common these days, while Guardian of the Guildpact dominates the ground and is protected from most removal (and the stats aren't even horrible). The uncommons are more underwhelming to make up for it though. The power may be there (Condemn is a standout), but cards like Mistral Charger don't feel uncommon at all (as shown by Stormfront Pegasus).
Helium Squirter Enigma Eidolon Court Hussar
Commons Uncommons
Blue is the double-guild color this set, so it has relatively few mono-color cards (especially since two of the uncommons are the weird gold-adjacent spells/creatures). The one good thing is that Helium Squirter and Silkwing Scout are both decent fliers, and Enigma Eidolon is another good mill card (even if it isn't quite as stand-alone as Vedalken Entrancer). The uncommons are basically non-existent—sure, Court Hussar's fine as a three-mana Anticipate, but it's still mostly a gold card.
Demon's Jester Nettling Curse Ragamuffyn
Commons Uncommons
Could black be making a comeback? I think it might have some not-awful creatures for once! Sure, Demon's Jester and Slaughterhouse Bouncer aren't standouts, but black isn't supposed to have the best creatures, and they're great compared to what we've seen so far. I'm also interested in how Nettling Curse does—it draws comparisons to Lust for War, and while it's almost certainly worse, that was a standout in Rise of the Eldrazi. Of course, Seal of Doom is the standout, but black having good removal should be expected. The uncommons are unfortunately disappointing (the blank Nightcreep being the obvious low point), but Ragamuffyn looks good enough, I guess.
Seal of Fire Ogre Gatecrasher Flaring Flame-Kin
Commons Uncommons
Unfortunately the improvements in black didn't flow over to black's guild partner. Sure, red has a lot of decent burn in Dissension (both Seal of Fire and Cackling Flames at common, along with the conditional Weight of Spires at uncommon), but the creatures still aren't good, with Ogre Gatecrasher being the one good red common creature. One noticeable hit to red is Kill-Suit Cultist, which was gutted by rules changes (the loss of damage on the stack means it isn't a pseudo-deathtouch creature anymore). There are a couple more uncommon creatures that aren't awful, but Flaring Flame-Kin doesn't really fit with what red is doing (though Taste for Mayhem helps that deck if it does exist), and Gnat Alley Creeper isn't great in a format hostile to one-toughness creatures (Pyromatics, Carom, lots of pingers, Saprolings to block it).
Aquastrand Spider Utopia Sprawl Indrik Stomphowler
Commons Uncommons
Most of the graft creatures are in green, and they're surprisingly efficient (Aquastrand Spider being the prime example). There's also a lot of common ramp, with both Verdant Eidolon and Utopia Sprawl being very powerful. While a lot of the green uncommons are weird (Flash Foliage is probably fine, especially since you can graft to it, while Fertile Imagination doesn't seem like the best card to put in a set with Hellbent), Indrik Stomphowler is insane, either killing an Aura (often stopping a “when enchanted” effect, or even weakening an entire team by killing a Magemark) or a Signet, all while being a great body.
Commons Uncommons
The Signets and Bouncelands just keep getting better and better, especially since you're much more likely to be in more colors in the full block format. However, there are more colorless cards than the three cycles! The Guildhouses are much better than their Guildpact equivalents (though they're harder to play with colors being more stretched out), but there are three more colorless uncommons. Unfortunately they're all situational: Ghost Quarter isn't worth the colorless land slot even if it's good against bouncelands, Skullmead Cauldron is the kind of Hellbent enabler I warned against playing, and Magewright's Stone has surprisingly few targets in the entire block (only 30 creatures—this card feels like it should be rare, like Thousand-Year Elixir).
Next, we'll move to the archetypes, starting with the two-color pairs.
Minister of Impediments Azorius First-Wing Sky Hussar
White/Blue (Azorius):
Commons Uncommons
Azorius somehow manages to support both of its major themes from the first two sets. The control theme is served very well by Forecast, as well as defensive creatures like Minister of Impediments and Soulsworn Jury. There are also a lot of efficient fliers, headlined by Azorius First-Wing and Freewind Equenaut. Combined with generically powerful gold cards that work well in both strategies like Plumes of Peace and Sky Hussar, the color that was close to good enough even without gold cards feels like it was pushed over the top in Dissension.
Rakdos Ickspitter Wrecking Ball Twinstrike
Black/Red (Rakdos):
Commons Uncommons
On the other hand, while BR certainly improves from getting gold cards, it still has the same major problems that have plagued it through the block: poor creatures and greedy players stealing its removal. While black has certainly improved back to average at least, it's still dependent on Hellbent to truly excel, while red has plummeted even from the mediocrity of the previous sets. Meanwhile, cards like Wrecking Ball and Twinstrike are supposed to pull you into Rakdos, but that isn't practical when anyone can splash them off Bouncelands and Signets. The “bread and butter” gold cards like Rakdos Ickspitter and Hellhole Rats are fine, but they certainly aren't worth suffering through the bad mono-color cards.
Coiling Oracle Vigean Hydropon Trygon Predator
Green/Blue (Simic):
Commons Uncommons
Simic is weird, since it not only manages to support its original theme of ramp, it introduced the counter theme with Graft as well. I mentioned the ramp tools of Utopia Sprawl and Verdant Eidolon in the green section, but Coiling Oracle also helps, while Assault Zeppelid is a great turn three play (and so is Trygon Predator for that matter). Meanwhile, I've talked about how efficient the Graft creatures are, but Vigean Hydropon is a crucial part of the archetype—it does a surprisingly good Glorious Anthem impression if you play it early, and also enables all the counter shenanigans. Overall Simic has a very high power level, which is important once we cover how the draft generally plays out.
Blue/Black (Dimir):
The Dimir finally get some fliers to support their card advantage ambitions! Overall a “generic” UB deck can finally work, though the mill strategy has been better than expected overall.
Red/Green (Gruul):
This deck didn't get much, other than the natural strength of green. I wasn't that big of a fan of it before, so I wouldn't try to get into it now.
Green/White (Selesnya):
While there aren't many token makers in Dissension (though there are still more than in Guildpact), the support like Steeling Stance and Thrive does exist. Of course, you now only have one pack of the crazy Selesnya stuff, so it's a trade-off.
White/Black (Orzhov):
The Orzhov didn't really get anything special from Dissension, but they didn't have that much in the first place—it's always been raw card quality.
Blue/Red (Izzet):
All the dependence on spells in Izzet really hurts it in Dissension, as there are only three common instants and sorceries in those colors. You also don't have the raw power to make up for it, but you have the same amount of actual Izzet cards as you did in RRG, and Izzet was a great strategy there, so it could work.
Black/Green (Golgari):
Golgari actually gets more synergies than you would think. The Eidolons have an obvious synergy with Dredge (though I wish Entropic Eidolon had a more-relevant ability), while all the stuff that wants you to discard cards for Hellbent synergies (like Macabre Waltz) works fine with Golgari's graveyard synergies.
Red/White (Boros):
With all the white cards being defensively-oriented and the red cards being mediocre, Boros is in a weird place. Maybe this is the place for Flaring Flame-Kin?
Three-Color Decks:
As I hinted at in the Guildpact article, the default way to draft the full block format is to pick three colors, such that you end up with a guild in each pack. This ensures you don't get completely locked out of the powerful gold cards, without having to over-commit to fixing. However, the number of ways this works is limited—let's see how each of these decks looks:
Dimir → Orzhov → Azorius (WUB/Esper):
Very controlling, with a lot of fliers—this deck works best based on pure card quality.
Dimir → Izzet → Rakdos (UBR/Grixis):
As good as the “guild in each pack” strategy is, I'm not sure it's worth picking the worst guild in each pack to do so with. You do get a lot of removal with this path though—maybe this is just the base of the greedy players?
Golgari → Gruul → Rakdos (BRG/Jund):
This combines the graveyard strategies I mentioned above, though I'm not sure what Gruul gets you other than generically powerful gold cards. The synergies need to get you there, since the raw card quality isn't the greatest here.
Boros → Izzet → Azorius (WUR/Jeskai):
Boros and Azorius feels like the most diametrically opposed pairing so far—why would you want the most aggressive and most controlling guilds together in the same deck? However, I think this is more of a Izzet/Azorius controlling deck you draft after getting some generically-powerful cards in Ravnica.
Boros → Orzhov → Rakdos (BRW/Mardu):
Where Jeskai above paired two control guilds with an aggressive guild, this pairs two aggressive guilds (Boros and Rakdos) with a control guild (Orzhov), and the pairing is more interesting. On one hand, Orzhov feels like it can go aggressive a lot more easily than Boros could go control in Jeskai. However, the idea of a three-color aggressive deck feels flawed, as the aggressive deck doesn't really want to spend time with the necessary bouncelands and Signets. If the mana can work, this feels like a good strategy when everyone else is a million colors.
When looking at the above color combinations, the main thing to notice is that two guilds are missing entirely from the list of three-color decks. The first is Selesnya, which means it's something you have to commit to early, though you do have the chance to audible if it isn't coming together. However, the much more interesting missing guild is Simic—it waited until the last set to show up, and now it doesn't have a place. However, as I mentioned, it made up for that with raw strength and a very focused plan. If you can get enough good cards for it in the first two packs, Simic has enough rewards, but it's risky (as you can just end up not opening that many good Simic cards). On a related note, the three strongest guilds (in terms of average card quality) are Selesnya, Azorius, and Simic, but even though this makes a three-color deck (GWU/Bant), you're mostly punting the second pack to get there.
I hope you enjoyed my review of the entire Ravnica block—it took me almost ten-thousand words to get there, and yet the next block will probably end up even longer (though that will be explaining mechanics instead of draft strategy). However, before we jump into the crazy world of Time Spiral, we're taking a trip back to the Ice Age with one of the strangest Modern formats: Coldsnap.
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