Attention to Detail #18
Do Not Ride The Bomb
by Jordan Kronick
April 28, 2006
Welcome back to Ravnica. Tomorrow is the
prerelease for the last set of this block, and our last look
at the guilds that populate it. I would be lying if I said I
wasn't excited about Dissension. This set contains two of my
favorite color combinations and, from the cards I've seen,
will contain some of my new favorite cards. Soon, all of
these cards will not only be public knowledge rather than
just spoilers, but will also become a part of our common
Magic lexicon. I think that the success of a new Magic set
can often be decided based on how long it remains “new” in
the minds of the players. Some sets are full of surprises,
and they continue to be exciting until the next set is
released – both Ravnica and Guildpact had this. Then again,
some sets – let's say Legions for example – weren't really
exciting a few hours into the prerelease. I don't think
Dissension is going to disappoint. Today I'm going to go
over some of the really big flashy things we've seen so far.
I'm sure in the coming weeks I'll be talking about RGD
drafting in depth, and I'll have plenty of time to talk
about the commons and uncommons that are deciding matches.
For now, it's time to talk bombs. We'll find some good ones
and some cards that may decieve us about their bomb-status.
For the ease of reading, I'm going to pick a card from each
color. Next week, in addition to my initial thoughts on the
RGD format, I'll also go back and retouch the multicolored
and non-colored bombs of the set. Please note that I'm
getting my information from spoiler sites, so the wordings
may be slightly off or the names slightly different from
what you see tomorrow. To start us off, we've got a little
creature with enormous power. Sometimes your opponent plays
a creature and you don't worry about it. You say, “I'll deal
with that if it becomes a threat”. Well, this one is a
threat right from the start. As long as it remains in play,
it will dominate the game.
Haazda Shield Mate – 2W
Creature – Human Soldier
At the beginning of your upkeep, pay WW or sacrifice Haazda
W: Choose a source. The next time this source would deal
damage to you, prevent it until end of turn.
We've seen a lot of cards similar to this over the years.
Usually, they are enchantments. Prismatic Circle, Solitary
Confinement, and many others have taken the path of
sustaining the game with an upkeep cost. The upkeep on this
one is particularly cheap. 2 mana is a small price to pay
for the ability to stop any damage coming towards you. Of
course, a 1/1 creature is a lot easier to deal with than an
enchantment. To help examine this card's usefulness, I'm
going to try something a bit different. I'm going to
evaluate it for use in each guild with which it shares a
color. All guilds are not created equal, after all. I'll be
using a 1-5 scale to evaluate, so here we go.
Starting from the top, the Selesnya provide an odd
situation. Although the guild is slow, and could
theoretically make great use of this (not to mention Convoke
providing a source of mana to replace the two you're
spending as upkeep), it's also a very defensive guild. Most
often when I'm playing a Selesnya deck in limited, the game
is decided on whether or not I have a stable board position.
A strong defense is the best offense, in this case. I just
don't think the Selesnya need the Shield Mate. The Selesnya
often find their strength in creatures like Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi.
It's a great defender that can also do some damage. Shield
Mate is purely defensive. It prevents you from losing the
game, but doesn't further your goal of winning. And Selesnya
decks are already notoriously low on threats. I'd run it,
but it wouldn't jump out of the third pack, first pick, if
there was something better.
The Boros are pretty much the opposite. This guild thrives
on offense. It doesn't like the Shield Mate for an entirely
different reason. Boros decks need to win – or at least make
a strong case for winning – in the first few turns of the
game. They have a fairly bad late-game, which is why they
are often so effectively combined with the Selesnya who have
a great late game (and the Gruul who have a great mid-game).
Any deck devoted to attacking quickly will find very little
use for the Shield Mate.
The Orzhov, on the other hand, thrive on the slow game.
Their bleeding strategy often means that they don't need to
attack, as long as they can defend themselves. If you could
get the Shield-Mate on line effectively while slowly
bleeding your opponent away, it could be a slow but
effective path to victory. This guy also lets you swing with
your efficient Orzhov flying creatures if able, while
leaving no creatures to defend the fort. If there's one flaw
to this plan it is that the Orzhov have little to no wayy of
protecting the Shield Mate. For that, we go to the final
The Azorius seem a bit like the Orzhov in their slow play
and interesting ways of winning. The guild seems dominated
by an abundance of flying creatures (as you would expect
from white-blue) but also by fragility (again – just what
you would expect). A strong evasive attacking force is just
what the Shield Mate wants. You can't expect it to stay
alive forever, so it wants you to win while you can, not
just rely on it to save you. Where the protection comes in
is with the strong access to counterspells. Countering
strategies often fail in draft, but they are greatly
improved when you're trying to protect one thing instead of
just yourself. Case in point, protecting a Worship in 9th
Edition is a lot easier than protecting yourself. The only
flaw here is that the Azorius have such a strong fleet of
fliers that may not need the Shield Mate in the first place!
My verdict is that Shield Mate has a powerful effect, but it
is not – in fact – a bomb. Sorry to start us off on a down
note, but that's how these things go. Let's see if blue's
contribution to this column can spice things up.
Cytoplast Manipulator – 2UU
Creature – Human Wizard Mutant
U, T: Gain control of target creature with a +1/+1 counter
on it as long as Cytoplast Manipulator remains in play.
Wizards gave us this card as a preview this week, and it
brought up a roar of happiness from anyone who likes playing
blue. When Vedalken Shackles first hit the scene, fans of
islands were real excited. And that could only steal one
creature! This card is incredible for a lot of reasons. I'll
let the guild-by-guild breakdown explain those reasons for
Dimir – 2.5
Izzet – 2.0
Azorius – 3.5
Simic – 5.0
House Dimir doesn't really care for the Manipulator that
much. But it's only because they don't really deal in +1/+1
counters at all. They leave that to the green guilds. Still,
even with it only able to steal one creature (and thereby
become a pretty weak 1/1 on it's own), this thing is still
great. Obviously, it's true strength lies in it's ability to
steal more creatures, which requires more +1/+1 counters.
The Dimir simply aren't going to provide that.
The Izzet face a similar dillemma, with the added flaw that
they don't usually take a slow route to victory. The Izzet
thrive on thempo. Cards like Ogre Savant and Steamcore Weird
help clear the way early while you beat down the opponent.
Hopefully culminating in some crazy trick that wins the
mid-game, before a true offense can be mounted. And the
Manipulator really doesn't fit in with that game plan. The
Izzet throw their creatures around with bouncing, and
sacrifice them when necessary. Cytoplast Maniulator is just
a bit too slow to be the foundation of an Izzet deck. Sorry,
Azorius fans will see things differently. Here's a guild
that not only likes the long game, they also like punching
small holes in the opponent's defence (like a sole flier
holding back the Azorius swarm) in order to bring the pain.
Although they also are not a great source of +1/+1 counters,
the strategy of stealing just one creature will be more
important for the Azorius.
And then, we come to the color that actually claims the
Cytoplast Manipulator as a member. The Simic Combine loves
this guy more than any other. I've seen a number of the
cheap Graft creatures, and they are very effective. When you
realize that every grafting grizzly bear becomes two of your
opponent's creatures stolen with this guy in play, it's
pretty obvious that he's huge. The guild also has access to
other sources of +1/+1 counters, and what may be the
Cytoplast Manipulator's best friend – and Aura to make it
untargetable. Because nothing is worse that going to the
trouble of putting +1/+1 counters on your opponent's
creatures just to have your manipulator get shot. If I was
playing a deck that leant itself strongly to the Simic when
pack 3 opens, there are few cards I can imagine which I
would rather see than this one. Prepare for Cytoplast
Manipulator to be a constructed powerhouse, if at all
It is definitely a bomb. Even if your deck can't take full
advantage of it's skills, it could very well be worth
bending your colors to blue/green if you open one of these.
This card will reward you every time you play it. Next up,
we've got a similar card. At least on the surface. Black has
given a us a lot of creatures over the years that can kill
lots of other creatures. Royal Assassin springs to mind.
This one will not disappoint.
Unliving Psychopath – 2BB
Creature – Zombie Assassin
B: Unliving Psychopath gets +1/-1 until end of turn.
B, T: Destroy target creature with power less than Unliving
Finally, we get to a creature that the Dimir simply love.
Royal Assassin would fit right in with the Dimir, and this
guy follows right behind. He gives you the ability to kill
creatures slowly, one by one. The Dimir have enough
defensive power to hold the fort until the damage is too
much. That's a strong combination. The Dimir also aren't
notorious for using up all their mana during their main
phase, so you won't have to worry about the potentially
prohibitive cost to use the Psychopath. A fine choice for
The Golgari doesn't like it as much. They're a bit more
proactive about their killing. They like cards that can
remove a threat on the spot and let the hulking monsters of
the guild do their damage. Psychopath is a bit slow for that
job. Also, the Psychopath has the strength of being able to
become an efficient attacker when needed. That's something
the Golgari really don't need. The guild is already full of
cheap 3/1s and 4/1s, so an expensive one just isn't
necessary. Still powerful for it's killing abililties, it
just seems out of place here.
The Orzhov, much like the Dimir, love the Psychopath. If
they aren't putting a Pillory on something, they'd prefer it
be dead. This is a great way to accomplish that. And, when
you're not using it to kill stuff for whatever reason, it's
a 0/4 that can stall the ground nicely while your bleeding
does the work.
The Rakdos – the only black guild in Dissension – strangely
like this guy the least. The great strength of the Rakdos is
speed. They play a suicide strategy that involves winning
right away. The Hellbent ability functions when you have no
cards in hand, which means playing every card you draw right
away is a good thing. If your mana is too tied up in the
slow strategy of using the Psychopath, you'll fall too far
behind on your Hellbending. It still kills stuff, but the
Rakdos shouldn't have too many problems with that anyway.
Verdict – Bomb. But be careful. It's not always what you're
looking for, just because it's in your colors. Next up we
come to the red. Like black, this color appears in only one
guild of Dissension – and it's the same guild. We can expect
to see some explosive cards from red, so let's see what they
have in store for us.
Demonfire – XR
Demonfire deals X damage to target creature or player. If a
creature dealt damage in this way would be put into a
graveyard this turn, remove it from the game instead.
Hellbent – Demonfire can't be countered by spells or
abilities and its damage can't be prevented as long as you
have no cards in hand.
Boros – 4.5
Izzet – 4.5
Gruul – 3.5
Rakdos – 4.5
The Boros aren't the only guild to love Demonfire, but they
certainly will make great use of it. I've already mentioned
that the Boros have little to no late-game (unless you
opened a Razia, you lucky devil). Well, this can be your
late game. Under the right circumstances, this is all the
late-game you'll need. The Boros shouldn't have much problem
getting Hellbent themselves, and can do enough early damage
to make this a huge finisher.
The Izzet have to love this card more than any other guild.
Sure, the Hellbent ability might not come into play as much,
but they have something nobody else has – an efficient way
of reusing it. Izzet Chronarc recovering Demonfire is going
to become a dreaded play all over the world, tomorrow. To
say nothing of Peel From Reality or Mark of Eviction
returning the Chronarc so you can get the Demonfire back
over and over again. This card is exactly what a good Izzet
deck needs – one big crazy win condition that you can use
over and over, if necessary. A perfect fit.
The Gruul probably have the least use for Demonfire, but
it's by no means ineffective here. To them, it's just
another removal spell though. You don't need a big spell to
do your damage when you've got Streetbreaker Wurms. What you
do need is a way to clear the path. This will clear just
about anything out of the way. Disintegrate would be proud.
The Rakdos suffer from a lot of the same problems as the
Boros. Having this for a late-game finisher will be a very
good thing. And, like the Gruul, they will often find a use
for it to clear the path for their early forces, once they
become outclassed by larger creatures. Of course, the fact
that they will be the most likely to be Hellbent doesn't
Verdict: Bomb. Blaze is a bomb. And this is better than
Blaze. There's really not that much to say, as it's a pretty
simple card. Simply good. Next up, things will get a bit
more complicated. Green gives us quite a predicament.
Protean Hulk – 5GG
Creature – Beast
When Protean Hulk is put into a graveyard from play, search
your library for any number of creature cards with total
converted mana cost less than or equal to 6, and put them
into play. Then shuffle your library.
The Selesnya don't really care for this guy. To them, he's
just more of the same. Another huge green creature that
doesn't trample. And when he dies, you can't even go fetch
something equally large. It's probably at it's least
effective when it's not the biggest thing around. And the
Selesnya are already the masters of giant creatures (and
very tiny ones that come in token form). It's still powerful
enough that I might even pick it first, but there's a lot
better choices that could be made.
The Golgari on the other hand like this guy a lot. They have
a lot of small-cost creatures that pack a big punch. And
they also like getting more creature cards so they can do
hideous Golgariesque things with them. Also, unlike the
Selesnya, the Golgari have few truly high-end creatures.
Having a 6/6 around to hold the fort is a good thing.
The Gruul fit in the middle of the two options. A 7-cost
creature is pretty expensive for the Gruul. On the other
hand, when it dies it can fish up a lot of decent Gruul
guys. However, the fact that they have 6/5 creatures that
cost 2 fewer mana could put them at odds with the Hulk. Run
it, but make sure it's the top of the curve.
The Simic, once again, find the best use for a new card. Of
all the green guilds, the Simic have the largest number of
utility creatures. When you kill a Protean Hulk belonging to
a Gruul player you can be pretty sure about what they'll go
find. More nasty Gruul creatures. On the other hand, when
you kill a Simic player's Hulk, you could be giving them
anything. A Cytoplast Manipulator and a 2-cost Graft
creature, or any other weirdness. Maybe even Experiment Kraj.
I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of that.
That wraps things up for this week. It's going to be an
exciting few months of guild-based action at the drafting
tables and in the constructed tournaments around the world.
10 guilds enter – one guild leaves. Or something like that.
In any case, have fun at the prerelease, and I hope to see
some of you on the Magic Online beta test for Dissension,
which will start shortly after. Let's get those Dissension
bugs worked out, so we have more time to play with the
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