Dissension Constructed Review, Part 3: Black

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Mike continues his Constructed rundown of Dissension with a look at the Black cards. So far, we’ve had a strong showing for the control mages… will the Rakdos cards bring some good lovin’ for the aggro-crazy spellslingers among us? The answers, as always, lie within…

You know the drill.


Bond of Agony
This is basically a Black Hurricane or Earthquake that doesn’t affect creatures. If that seems awful to you, it is, in the abstract at least. However, Green decks have played Hurricane since the dawn of tournament Magic just as a finisher, and this is one that can get around Worship, Circle of Protection: Black, and so on, so it’s not hopeless (though, no, I don’t think the card will be popular).

Playable – Role Player

Brain Pry
This is rather an interesting card. You can either go for the pinpoint Addle/Cabal Therapy route, or intentionally cycle (name “Dregs of Sorrow” or whatever). The upside is that, unlike Therapy, if you whiff, Brain Pry replaces itself. Possibly this is even better than I’m rating it, but Brain Pry has a lot of competition in this Block.

Playable – Role Player

Crypt Champion
This card is a lot better than it seems at first blush. First of all, any creature that says “Double strike” as its first line of text generally deserves a second look. Dragon Tyrant didn’t wow anyone when Scourge was printed, but it ended up in a format-breaking Extended deck years later. Second, there are many ways to work around the symmetrical Unearth. One thing is that this card can help you reload after you’ve lost a guy to a removal spell… You can often set it up by not destroying one of the opponent’s creatures, or by sideboarding Crypt Champion in against creature-poor control, that the opponent doesn’t even get a creature out of the trigger. This could be a nice “Gravedigger” reload card against removal, or possibly maindeck.

Playable – Role Player

Delirium Skeins
A lot of other players and reviewers probably like Delirium Skeins more than I do. I think it will get played, but I question it as a universal include in Rakdos, especially maindeck, at the outset. Sometimes players get overly excited about empty-handed mechanics (and I wrote The Sordid History of U/G Threshold, remember), and forget that there is someone across the table who might either benefit from Rakdos Hellbent cards himself or be playing for traditional card advantage. I’m not doubting that Delirium Skeins will be great when it is good, just that maybe it’s getting a bit too much love from early reports; there are other ways to set up Hellbent.

Just a quick note on the symmetry: you are actually down a card in a three-for-three exchange, because you had to spend Delerium Skeins and he just had to discard three. You can net cards Windfall style by just not having three cards, of course.

Playable – Role Player

Demon’s Jester
Without Hellbent online this creature is a fine Limited four-drop flyer, with Hellbent, it is in the Waterspout Djinn league. Demon’s Jester might be a 4/x flyer – like Skyshroud Vampire – that pushes a certain known quantity over the top for Block, or it might just be too expensive for a deck trying to empty its hand. Probably above average after an attrition fight…

Playable – Role Player (probably Constructed Unplayable, though, for want of a home)

Minotaur Explorer hits Black. Minotaur Explorer was never heavily played in Odyssey Block or Standard, but then again, Minotaur Explorer didn’t have the Hellbent mechanic to feed.

Ultimately, I don’t see Drekavac doing so much better in Charleston or Standard… Who wants to trade this for Lightning Helix, or play it against a deck with Repeal? The aggressive decks will likely have better drops on two.

Playable – Role Player (but get in line)

Enemy of the Guildpact
Can you think of a less exciting card to play for five?

Constructed Unplayable

Entropic Eidolon
Goodman already talked about this guy a little bit. He seems interesting… sort of Krovikan Horror-like going long, with different restrictions. Per the rest of the cycle, Entropic Eidolon has a nice Squee capability; he makes for an interesting inclusion in Dredge decks, which can randomly flip him, but reap card advantage long term for their troubles. If it sees actual play, that will come from a Squee-like utilization (but Entropic Eidolon seems like a less eligible choice than some other cards).

Playable – Role Player

Infernal Tutor
This card seems pretty awesome. People seem to be trying to figure out how to get Hellbent online with it, but there are a lot of times that doubles of a card will be better. For example, say you are holding Cry of Contrition… Congratulations, Infernal Tutor just turned that into a double Hymn hand. I’d say my goal in Rakdos is to empty my hand and Tutor for Demonfire, but I don’t know how much mana I could possibly have left.

Old rule in effect for the permission-minded out there: Generally it is cheaper to counter the Tutors than wait for what they are getting. Often mediocre players wait for the Tutor to resolve, only to lose to permission-resistant cards like Dust Bowl or Urza’s Rage.

Playable – Staple

Macabre Waltz
Macabre Waltz seems fine, but I’m not really in love with the card… Card advantage-wise, it is only marginally better than a Raise Dead, but costs twice as much. In the cases where you don’t have two creatures in your graveyard but need some action, the downside should be pretty obvious. Going long, Macabre Waltz does let you convert a land or blank into a relevant card, which is good in the cycling sense, and it does let you replay bombs over the long haul. I could see it in Rakdos beatdown or as a recursion element for Angel control or similar decks with surplus card advantage and relatively few, but potent, threats (the former more likely, though).

The Role Player rating probably applies to Block only, as in Standard, this card is going to be behind Death Denied for one more mana and considerably more versatility.

Playable – Role Player

Nettling Curse
Just… No… Five mana? Are you kidding me? Just… No…

Constructed Unplayable

There are several bad and worse combinations you can play with this card. The most fun one I can think of is playing it and then blocking Hand of Cruelty with Hand of Honor; that should elicit a dropped jaw and a “bad beat, man…” if nothing else… But such fun times and projected happy memories to be don’t exactly warrant two mana and a precious slot in a serious Constructed deck. You can also use Nightcreep as kind of a horrendous Duress test spell to prevent countermagic on a key turn, but Black has other ways of doing the same thing, and for less mana. Possibly as a terrible Time Walk?

Playable – Role Player (okay, probably not)

Nihilistic Glee
Old people like me become very excited when we see any cards that allow you to pay life to draw. This one… not so much.

Nihilistic Glee can play kind of like some kind of goofy Black Peace of Mind, though the cost is rather steep – three mana – for a marginal victory condition effect. I suppose it’s cool in that you can profitably set up Hellbent, but really, this doesn’t seem very good to me.

Constructed Unplayable

I suppose once you have Hellbent online, there is some virtue in eating the opponent’s stuff via some sort of recursive Control Magic effect… But this just seems to slow and stupid 99% of the time to be worth thinking about. Nice Gray Ogre.

Constructed Unplayable

I’d rate this at Flagship but I don’t think people will really build decks around it. Ratcatcher is also not a Staple… Not every Rat deck will want to invest six mana in a 4/4 Fear, even though this is a perfectly serviceable card that has a great ability in context (albeit a mite slow): Therefore it is Role Player.

Note that this is quite a fine sideboard card for certain versions of B/W in Standard against, say, G/W. The Ghazi-Chord was designed specifically to maul B/W decks (though Ghost Dad specifically), yet it has no real creature elimination… just big smashie smashie bombs like Jitte and Yosei. It’s quite possible that Ratcatcher can get sideboarded in and make a stack of Ravenous Rats into flippy Rack Rats and win what should be a difficult matchup. He even trades with North Side!

Playable – Role Player

Throw him a fish and all is well

Seal of Doom
Seal of Doom was always close to being good enough for Standard, but never quite; it was, however, heavily played in Masques Block, where it was Staple in one of the top decks in the format (Priest.dec). I guess that had to do with card availability, but Jonny Magic rode this card to his Worlds 2000 Top 8, where he was eventual Champion.

Today, Seal of Doom is even more synergistic due to Hellbent… It lets you get a card out of your hand without actually burning a spell. It is not going to substitute with Mortify or Putrefy, but there are, surprise surprise, Black decks that are not B/W or B/G; Seal of Doom was tailor-made for Rakdos, and may have some utility as a redundancy over the better instants. Whether it actually makes a splash in Charleston is up in the air, but I wouldn’t be surprised either way (the other Seal, though…)

Playable – Staple (potentially, especially in Block); otherwise Role Player

Slaughterhouse Bouncer
We both know you will never want to play this. Even if it works, you have to do a lot of work to get your two-for-one, and I can’t imagine five-mana spells and Hellbent working on the same team in Constructed.

Constructed Unplayable

Slithering Shade
This guy is just horrendous. In a beatdown-on-beatdown fight, though, the opponent will be loathe to trade his perfectly tuned Constructed quality creature with this, so Slithering Shade might just buy you a few life points without ever actually blocking or even tapping another Black mana. The joy comes late game when you have no cards in hand and suddenly you look like a genius for playing Nantuko Shade. I don’t think I would run this as my one-drop as long as Plagued Rusalka is legal, but I know that other people are thinking about it.

Playable – Role Player

Unliving Psychopath
This seems rather… unexciting for Constructed. To kill a 2/2 you need to spend four mana, which I guess is fine if you are not spending a card, but also a ton. Unliving Psychopath is not going to save you from a swarm, either. Royal Assassin seems better in most cases – it’s certainly cheaper – and that card sees zero play despite being in a former World Champion’s deck.

I really wanted to like it because I used to sideboard Tsabo’s Assassin against Rebels when everyone else was on Tsabo’s Decree, but I just don’t see it this time.

Constructed Unplayable

Vesper Ghoul
I don’t know any deck that would ever want this. It’s not just that it’s worse than so many other Black drops, it’s just that running this card is like taking out a $20 Godless Shine for Sorrow’s Path (“Hey, they both deal me two!”).

Constructed Unplayable

Wit’s End
You know my rules: If it costs four, it should be able to help you win the game; if it costs seven and you get it off, you better just win. This costs seven. Do you win when you fire it? Not against a fast deck, necessarily… That means that it is either a tutor target or a sideboard card for slow decks. Wit’s End seems fine in that role, not unlike a Ghost-Lit Stalker with both a better upside (can end more than four cards) and a worse downside (easier to counter by the decks you want it against). Wit’s End is a perfectly fine, narrow, and powerful card.

Playable – Role Player (quintessentially so)

Dissension Black Cards of Note:

1) Infernal Tutor
2) Delerium Skeins
3) Crypt Champion

Infernal Tutor is obviously the bee’s knees. This card has the words “chase rare” written all over it. Very strong. Very Rakdos.

Delerium Skeins is going to wreck some of the people some of the time. It combines a powerful effect with a relatively low cost, and that is a recipe for success if you are holding the tempo. A fine card, if not the automatic Staple that some people seem to be suggesting.

I gave Seal of Doom a potential Staple rating, but I think Crypt Champion is more interesting (which should give you an idea of how I feel about Dissension Black). As I said, I think anything with Double Strike deserves a second look, and the symmetry on this card seems too easy to break to ignore the Champ completely… Come on! He’s the Champ! Look for this card to annoy control decks that just killed your Cutpurse or something.

Tomorrow we see if there are any new reasons for Red Decks to Win.