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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 Shield Mate.
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.

Selesnya – 2.0
Boros – 1.5
Orzhov – 3.5
Azorius – 3.0

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 white guild.

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
Graft 2
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 me.

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, guys.

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 possible.

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 Psychopath's power.

Dimir – 4.5
Golgari – 3.0
Orzhov – 4.0
Rakdos – 2.5

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 Szadek's legion.

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 hurt, either.

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.

Selesnya – 2.5
Golgari – 3.5
Gruul – 3.0
Simic – 4.0

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 cards!



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