Dissension Card Review Part VI: Simic and Rakdos

Pre-Order Dissension Today!

Mike continues his Constructed rundown of Dissension with a look at the cards that most of you have been waiting for… the Simic and Rakdos guilds. Simic looks the stronger of the two for Limited play, while Rakdos seems to have an excellent agressive pedigree for the Constructed game. But what does Mike make of their respective strengths and weaknesses? Read on to find out.

[Part I: White][Part II: Blue and Azorius][Part III: Black][Part IV: Red][Part V: Green]

Hello once again, and welcome to the penultimate instalment of StarCityGames.com Dissension Card Review! This time we are happy to bring the long anticipated U/G Guild, Simic (as well as the violent and reckless Rakdos). Simic is the Guild I personally have been looking forward to the most among the ten Ravnica combinations because, let’s face it, U/G decks have been the stone nuts since Odyssey Block, with Blue never ceasing to be Magic’s most powerful color since Alpha, and Green being the beneficiary of a great deal of Affirmative Action over the past five years after being a "mostly a Sealed Deck color" for so long.

Basically, Blue and Green have gotten the lion’s share of insane cards and effects – and therefore generated superb, if "fair," decks – just because Blue’s forte (card drawing) and Green’s specialty (mana acceleration) are the two most breakable elements of Magic (draw one card and play one land being the fundamental symmetries lacing the game together). Put them next to one another and you get decks like Deep Dog, Threshold, MadTog2020, Heartbeat of Spring combo, other Heartbeat of Spring combo deck, and Critical Mass; the second-best if not the best decks in countless Constructed formats… Even Ravager Affinity had to respect Mirrodin Block’s U/G decks, with tons of 187s like Viridian Shaman and Eternal Witness, copious artifact removal, and the possibility of super-annoying side plans based on Echoing Truth, Rude Awakening, and, yes (sigh) Crystal Shard.

Initially, I was really disappointed with the Simic – I guess I expected Simic Guildmage to be the broken love child of Aquamoeba and Werebear – as it turned out to be possibly the 10th best Constructed Guildmage. Actually, let’s break them out for a second…

1) Selesnya Guildmage
2) Rakdos Guildmage
3) Gruul Guildmage
4) Boros Guildmage
5) Izzet Guildmage
6) Azorius Guildmage
7) Dimir Guildmage
8) Orzhov Guildmage
9) Simic Guildmage
10) Golgari Guildmage

Does that list seem all right?

Obviously, Selesnya Guildmage is the best. It won the World Championships and has two relevant abilities. I had Gruul Guildmage at #2 for a long time, because it is an ideal finisher in a very good (if currently inappropriate) deck… But then Rakdos Guildmage appeared (see below), and its "Goblin" ability is the same as Gruul’s "Cursed Scroll" ability (who uses the other in Constructed?) without blowing a card, so in New York we are already debating if Rakdos has jumped all the way past Selesnya yet. It’s that insane. Boros Guildmage has been played to reasonable resume on both the Pro Tour and PTQ levels by Pat Sullivan, and that’s good enough for me. Izzet Guildmage is supposed to enable the most broken combinations this side of Trix (but hasn’t proven itself yet). Azorius Guildmage might end up being great in context, but hasn’t done anything (could be long on potential in upcoming formats, though, of course), and the card is sadly lacking the obvious powerhouse stats of the Rakdos. Dimir Guildmage had half a year to wow us and has barely shown up in Constructed deck (though I guess Champs performance could put him as high as #4 if you were feeling generous). Who plays Orzhov Guildmage at (w/b)(w/b) when Hand of Honor, Hand of Cruelty, Eight-and-a-Half Tails, and even Ravenous Rats are around? Sorry dude, wrong colors, wrong time. So I guess based purely on prohibitively high activation costs, Simic is merely 9/10, finishing ahead of Golgari. Thoughts?

Moving on…

After going over the possibilities for Constructed, not to mention having Simic cards in front of me every time I have a winning draft, I have reversed my opinion. This could well be the best Guild in Ravnica Block… It’s probably got the single best card in the set, as well as a nice cluster of additional Staples.

Without further preamble…

Assault Zeppelid
When I first started playing, there used to be this card called Phantom Monster. Back then, Phantom Monster was not good enough… Then again, during 80% of Phantom Monster’s potential life in Standard, it was playing alongside Lightning Bolt. A better card to compare Assault Zeppelid to is Stronghold Zeppelin, a quintessential Role Player from Masques Block. In the Guild context, Assault Zeppelid is clearly superior to Stronghold Zeppelin, having no drawbacks but instead an additional super power of going over the top of any Birds of Paradise (or perhaps Dove tokens) foolish enough to get in its way.

If Simic aggro-control is going to be a force in either Block or the new Standard, Assault Zeppelid is likely to be present. Four mana creatures are ideal in Green decks because of the natural mana advantage available via Sakura-Tribe Elder, Farseek, and Coiling Oracle; in the potential framework of that deck, I quite like this card.

Big and Dumb Rating 1.08

Playable – Role Player

Coiling Oracle
If Sakura-Tribe Elder is the best card in Standard, and Coiling Oracle is Dissension’s answer to Sakura-Tribe Elder, then is Coiling Oracle the best card in Dissension? I am not sure. It’s awfully good, but it’s not as good as the Tribe Elder. Here are some issues:

1) In terms of gameplay, Coiling Oracle is halfway between two-mana Staple Sakura-Tribe Elder and three-mana Role Player Wood Elves. In the idiom of Chad Ellis, it is "dumber" than either card, being completely incapable of aiming, but will tend to net card advantage at a slightly greater rate than Sakura-Tribe Elder. The incentive to play either of those other Green 1/1 creatures is that you can find specific lands, and Coiling Oracle does not have this edge; it does, however, sometimes flip a Karoo, which is just phenomenal.

2) One of the main reasons you play Sakura-Tribe Elder is that if it’s in your opening hand, it’s in play on the second turn 80% of the time. Coiling Oracle, at UG instead of 1G, is a much harder cast.

3) While Coiling Oracle can be pure card drawing and/or pure mana acceleration, it does not shuffle as well as Sakura-Tribe Elder. Sensei’s Divining Top is a Staple in Standard (after being key in Block) almost purely because of its interaction with shufflers.

4) One of the nicest side effects of a well-placed Tribe Elder is the ability to keep counters off of Umezawa’s Jitte. In the same spot, Coiling Oracle will generally be a speed bump or less.

Of course, sometimes Coiling Oracle is better than the best card. Late in the game you sometimes have zero basics, or your opponent is really unsporting and plays cards like Shadow of Doubt, or you are in a really bad spot and you need to topdeck… Coiling Oracle may let you down sometimes, but in one of the above spots, you’d much rather have it than the original.

It is unlikely at best that Coiling Oracle will be played over Sakura-Tribe Elder in Standard, but it will be played alongside in many decks, and may even help lead the charge to a new and playable Snakes deck. However, look for this card to kick all kinds of ass in Block, and live a long life in Standard and beyond.

Big and Dumb Rating 1.00

Playable – Staple

I can think of several possibilities for this card. You can win a fight short term (change my Saproling Token into a Loxodon Hierarch, block a bunch of guys including your Kodama of the North Tree, save my team), steal the opponent’s best body, or most likely, piggyback your own best creatures. Generally speaking I don’t see this card as making the cut main in a lot of Tier 1 decks, but it definitely has some utility as a "Giant Growth" out of the board; narrow, but not unplayable.

Playable – Role Player

Experiment Kraj
At first I was really cool on this card, and then I had it in every deck, and now I’m back to being a bit reluctant to include it in my deck lists.

Obviously you don’t play this ahead of Keiga, but that doesn’t mean you don’t play it. One of the things I like about Kraj is that it is bigger than a Dragon, so it doesn’t automatically lose a fight… I don’t know if the ability-stealing aspects are going to come into play a lot in Constructed, but the body is fine for the cost, and the +1/+1 bit is very serviceable.

Big and Dumb Rating 1.28

Playable – Role Player

Leafdrake Roost
This card is very expensive. That doesn’t make it bad… just narrow. Leafdrake Roost is more expensive than Squirrel Nest, but the problem is that it also requires a mana activation cost to make the 2/2s (clunky). I like this card more than Genju of the Realm in Ideal decks. It doesn’t kill as quickly, but it also doesn’t put the primary in harm’s way; there are a lot of advantages to 2/2 flying tokens over a single Genju under Epic. Also, the costs are less important in that context.

Playable – Role Player

Momir Vig, Simic Visionary

I would have had this at Constructed Unplayable, but Fiorillo thinks that it is "powerful" so I decided to give Vig a second look. If you have it out, every U/G creature you play is an Eladamri’s Call; every Green creature is Worldly Tutor; and every Blue creature is… Well, "every" is the wrong word. I’m not a huge fan, but there is no denying that in the right deck (i.e. a deck built predominantly of Green and/or Blue creatures), it has a powerful effect going long (assuming Momir Vig survives, of course).

Big and Dumb Rating 0.60

Playable – Role Player

The majority of 3/3 creatures for four mana that see Constructed play fall into one of three categories: 1) they are conditionally bigger than 3/3 (Phyrexian Scuta or Dodecapod), 2) they generate an unfair measure of mana or cards (Trench Wurm, Goblin Clearcutter, Graveborn Muse), or 3) they fly and do something else well (Celestial Kirin, Mystic Enforcer).

Omnibian may fall into the second category, stealing a measure of mana (point at your Yosei), but that seems a mite narrow. With the second tier Simic cards, I keep thinking "well, maybe you side this in if your opponent has better dudes than you do," but it seems stronger to play better cards than to run Omnibians for specifically these reasons.

Big and Dumb Rating 1.00

Playable – Role Player

Plaxcaster Frogling
This card is about one million times better in a U/G deck than Gnarled Mass, the card I credit with a Kamigawa Block PTQ win. Plaxcaster Frogling has the highest Big and Dumb rating in Dissension, and is superb overall. I would gladly play this creature in a Ravnica Block U/G tempo deck or possibly Standard Critical Mass Update… On par with Troll Ascetic, and better in many cases.

Big and Dumb Rating 1.50

Playable – Staple

Simic Sky Swallower
I love this creature. In fact, Simic Sky Swallower – more even than Debtors’ Knell or Angel of Despair – is the reason I think sevens are the new sixes. It has the right combination of abilities to justify the enormous mana cost…

1) If I pay for a seven, I’d appreciate it not eating a Faith’s Fetters.
2) Not only does it fly, but also it fights a Dragon and lives. Not only does it live, after eating Keiga, it stays where it belongs… Who else can say that?
3) Not only does it fly, it tramples over the top of any foolish Birds of Paradise that hope to elongate a game that is slipping away.

Awesome, even for its exorbitant price tag.

Big and Dumb Rating 1.14

Playable – Role Player

Trygon Predator
With Trygon Predator we have a card that is essentially the opposite of Simic Sky Swallower. It costs less than half the mana, flies, and has an incredible special ability. May every Jitte, Faith’s Fetters, and Debtors’ Knell beware!

I like this card in a skies deck with Assault Zeppelid, or a solid creature in whatever U/G deck (especially the sideboard of a controllish deck). Again awesome.

Big and Dumb Rating 1.08

Playable – Staple

Vigean Hydropon
This card is a pure role player. I mean it doesn’t DO anything… But it might help a deck that is very mechanics-driven. For example, you can run Vigean Hydropon with Scatter the Seeds and Chord of Calling (where it aids Convoke), even Doubling Season… I don’t know if there is a Tier 1 deck there, but the lines and lines of card text are.

Big and Dumb Rating 1.33

Playable – Role Player

Vigean Intuition
I’m not really very interested in this card. Even with Sensei’s Divining Top, you are not going to net more than one or two cards very often. Also… what if you’re wrong?

The easiest way to get a three-for-one is setting up with Congregation at Dawn (and you might be lucky with four), but quite often, third turn Congregation at Dawn puts three dumb Elephants on top of your deck and you don’t need Vigean Intuition anyway.

… Plus it costs five. This isn’t any kind of Fact or Fiction, but it’s rare that we have decent instant speed card drawing, so possibly I am underestimating the card.

Playable – Role Player

For what it is, this card is just awesome. Voidslime is comparable to Hinder but has different upsides. Hinder is better against Dredge; Voidslime can stop a wide array of effects, from Umezawa’s Jitte to Plaxcaster Frogling, in more spots. Again for what it is, I like this card so much that I am considering running Green as the splash color in Jushi Blue, rather than Black.

The clause "for what it is" is an important one, though. I have changed my paradigm for Blue control decks in Standard, and even when I ran the Jushi Blue, I was all about tapping out for Keiga. I cut Hinder from URzaTron because I don’t really like slow, three mana, reactive spells when I can play dominating and aggressive control cards… But Voidslime is probably going to be great in Jushi and Critical Mass.

Playable – Staple

Biomantic Mastery
This isn’t just a seven, it’s contingent on… Never mind.

Constructed Unplayable

Shielding Plax
I once played a deck with eight creatures and three Cho-Manno’s Blessings to multiple PTQ Top 8s. I respect the ability to protect key threats in the right deck… As such, I think Shielding Plax is a better card than it looks. It has the key phrase "draw a card" in its text box, which is often the difference between a card being Constructed Unplayable or not. It has many in-Block interactions, from Three Dreams to Simic Guildmage, which can help buy it sixty cards space, and best of all, it’s an easy cast.

Playable – Role Player

Simic Guildmage
This card is not the love child of Aquamoeba and Werebear that I had hoped. I also think its abilities are going to be of limited scope in Constructed, despite the attractive costing. Likely this card will be best in a "fish" deck where you wouldn’t want to generate a lot of collateral damage with Lord of Atlantis, but even then, Izzet Guildmage is probably better; fine stats, though.

Big and Dumb Rating 1.33

Playable – Role Player

Top Simic cards for Constructed:

1) Coiling Oracle
2) Voidslime
3) Plaxcaster Frogling

awesome Awesome AWESOME…

Honorable Mention: Trygon Predator

… and awesome!

Anthem of Rakdos
Did you know that Orcish Oriflamme used to be on the Restricted List? When I first started I made sure to play this card whenever I could, because it was Restricted and I didn’t have a lot of powerful cards so I wanted to get any advantage possible.

There’s a reason it’s not there any more… and it was never good in my early Red Decks.

The net on this card isn’t much better; you get +2/+0 instead of +1/+0, but you take damage on the other side, so it’s not all roses or anything. It probably isn’t obvious that Anthem of Rakdos deals you double at Hellbent.

The effect is powerful, but the main downside to Anthem of Rakdos is that it costs so much freaking mana. How are you going to get Hellbent with a bunch of fives in your aggro deck?

Constructed Unplayable

Dread Slag
I really want to like this card, but I think it will take a lot of work to get an upside out of it. I guess you can play attrition, attrition, attrition, five; like a modern Blue deck; and it would be pretty great. The main problem with that, of course, is that you’ve pretty much got all your eggs in the Dread Slag basket, and then what happens when the opponent has, I don’t know, anything? With even two cards in hand this guy is a 1/1, so you can’t even play the Slag with three.

The best spot will likely be in dedicated attrition Rakdos, where you don’t care what you are discarding – even the Slag itself – and you are fine topdecking Slag; alternately, B/R can bring this in against G/R (or another deck with better creatures) to win long. It’s trample is exquisite against Green decks with ostensibly better armies.

Playable – Role Player

Gobhobbler Rats
Now this is a creature a man can love. Gobhobbler Rats is exactly what you want for two mana: a Bear. Once you are Hellbent – and chances are with a dedicated Rakdos beatdown you care about little else – this little guy rules the board. Essentially a 3/2 Regenerator for two mana, Gobhobbler Rats is comparable to River Boa in a mechanics-driven deck, and always "fine" or better for Constructed.

Playable – Staple

Hellhole Rats
This card is a collection of questions. The most important of them seems to be, "if I put a ton of insane abilities on a single Bear, is it worth four mana?"

The answer is "maybe," which makes it a Role Player.

The Rakdos creatures are a bit smaller than the other Guilds, so the damage potential, especially in concert with other discard, can help control the tempo of a game; speaking of tempo, the haste is negligible.

I have him as a two-of in a discard deck right now.

Playable – Role Player

Jagged Poppet

Obviously this is awful before you are Hellbent, but once you are online with the Rakdos mechanic, Jagged Poppet is golden (assuming you can get through).

I see it as the perfect compliment to Ignorant Bliss… but that doesn’t mean that you play Jagged Poppet in every deck. Often you can send and the opponent will block with his 3/3 for the +2, and Ignorant Bliss will wreck him. Generally, though, you don’t really want to spend three mana and a card for a guy who is afraid to get into fights with two drops… but against a deck with few creatures? Sign me up! Jagged Poppet is a fine sideboard card, especially when you can expect to get through.

Playable – Role Player

Lyzolda, the Blood Witch
It’s pretty obvious that Lyzolda is 1) insane, and 2) small. Possibly this card is like Gruul Guildmage, and you will want to wait until you have five mana before playing her out. I like her best in conjunction with Cry of Contrition and other Haunt cards best, but she can probably go into any number of Rakdos decks and contribute.

The reason that Lyzolda gets the Flagship rating, besides the fact that she is awesome on her face, is that she will bend the card choices of a specific Rakdos deck to accommodate her ability in the same way that a Ghost Dad player will run Pillory of the Sleepless over Mortify. In this case, creatures that are both Black and Red will be better than creatures of only one color, and lots of creatures in general should be present.

Playable – Flagship

Pain Magnification
When I first started playing Magic, I always played Red Decks. Specifically, I was slightly ahead of the curve for a first month player and recognized the power of Lighting Bolt and Kird Ape. I was nevertheless quite awful, and would send Lightning Bolt at my opponent’s face on my first turn. I consider my single greatest advancement of technical ability to be the first time I waited until the end of his turn to do this.

With Pain Magnification, you can make the opponent play as stupidly as you do. Say I Volcanic Hammer you… That’s -1 card, right? Not with this in play. I think that Pain Magnification is narrow, but possibly a reasonable sideboard card. If you can sneak it down, it can make life quite annoying for a, say, creature poor deck (you would never want it against a deck that was actually fighting back).

Playable – Role Player

Rain of Gore
Mark Herberholz won the most recent Pro Tour by being smarter than the control players and running Flames of the Blood Hand and Scorched Rusalka to beat Loxodon Hierarch and Faith’s Fetters.

Loxodon Hierarch… lose four life? Rain of Gore is faster than the powerful four-mana life gain cards… and does more.

The reason this card is Flagship is that it will bend the card choices of other players. I am pretty sure that White mages have to play enchantment removal and side it in against Rakdos colors now, unconditionally. This card might even warrant maindeck room, depending on the format.

Playable – Flagship

Rakdos Augermage
This card is another one of the big wows in Dissension. I have been talking up Heartbeat of Spring as the best deck in Standard (it is), and people have been talking about some dumb enchantment becoming Staple in Heartbeat (it won’t); I may be right about the path of Heartbeat or they might be right, but the one thing I know is that Heartbeat is in trouble. If the Rakdos pick up any kind of popularity in Standard – and they should – Heartbeat is going to have more problems with the strategy than it does with R/W in the main. Rakdos Augermage is highly synergistic with both conventional discard and Hellbent. This guy is like the Wild Mongrel of Rakdos.

Playable – Flagship

Rakdos Ickspitter
I like this card a lot. It’s a superb sideboard card in B/R against any creature deck with few or no elimination spells. Birds? Take one. Elves? Take one. Vitu-Ghazi? Consider it offline (by the way, take one).

Playable – Role Player

Rakdos the Defiler
I know that there are big upsides to Rakdos the Defiler, but I can’t really stand him, personally. I haven’t played a deck in at least a year that wouldn’t punish this card greatly. Rakdos is bad against spot elimination like Putrefy and Mortify, embarrassing against Boomerang and other bounce cards, and the absolute dregs against Glare of Subdual.

Obviously when you win with this you win big, but assuming you’re not behind, you actually have to hit the opponent once before you break even on the cards.

No doubt opinions will differ.

Playable – Role Player

I have this about three inches from Constructed Unplayable, but odd things happen in Block. Hellbent this can take out, say, two Rumbling Slums, netting both tempo and card advantage. It’s probably fine against B/W (or maybe another B/R deck?) without Hellbent. Don’t look for this card to be big in Standard, or have any life at all in Extended.

Playable – Role Player

Wrecking Ball
Demolish is close to Staple in Standard right now, and it’s awful compared to Pillage and poor compared to Stone Rain. Wrecking Ball is essentially a much better Demolish that can also take out, say, Keiga when the opponent is tapped out. The instant bit is obviously relevant, but it’s mostly gravy on an already quite playable spell.

Playable – Role Player

Avatar of Discord
I’m having problems getting behind this card because the mana cost is so difficult and the drawback is so steep… but 5/3 flying for three mana? That’s a wow.

I don’t know if this card will be very good in Standard for the same reasons that Rakdos himself isn’t going to be great, but I bet that it will be a strong card in Extended where Roar of the Wurm and Life from the Loam can help offset the downside.

Playable – Role Player

Rakdos Guildmage
As I said above, this is quite likely the best Guildmage next to mighty Selesnya. I have it ahead of Gruul Guildmage because the 2/1 Haste Goblin is very comparable to the former Gruul Deck Wins placeholder, but doesn’t require you to eat a land. Here is my Gruul Deck Wins at present if you are interested (no, it probably doesn’t beat Ghost Dad):

Playable – Staple

Riot Spikes
This card is better than you think. It seems like a great sideboard card for Black decks and a potential redundancy for Red Decks. Me? I like killing Birds of Paradise, especially when I don’t have to waste a "real" burn card to do so. Like Funeral Charm, this will go offensive in a pinch.

Playable – Role Player

Top Rakdos cards:

1) Rain of Gore
2) Lyzolda, the Blood Witch
3) Rakdos Augermage

It should be no surprise that the three cards I marked "Flagship" get the top honors here, in a Guild stacked to the top of the mountain with great cards. I have Rain of Gore at #1 because it is such a strategy ruiner and matchup reverser; Lyzolda and Terry will likely get played on the same team anyway, but I see Lyzolda as the more versatile card, and, ironically, as the better Cry of Contrition enabler.

Up next: Lands, Split Cards, and Artifacts