Dissension Constructed Review, Part II: Blue and Azorius

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Mike continues his Constructed rundown of Dissension with a look at both the Blue cards and the Azorius guild. Yesterday’s article brought us three cards with genuine Constructed application… will the Blue cards offer more? And is the Azorius guild everything that the control mage desires? The answers, as always, lie within…

You can read part one here.

There are only about sixteen purely Blue cards in Dissension, so I decided to toss in the Azorius for this segment, especially as how we already looked at that Guild’s other half yesterday and should therefore be able to contextualize U/W as a whole.

Per previous, you know the drill.

Court Hussar
“In Magic, what more can you ask for than a two-for-one?”

I used to call Impulse “the best card in Magic.” Mark Rosewater told me at some Pro Tour New York that R&D would never again print a search card of Impulse’s caliber, at least not at its cost and speed. Court Hussar costs one more mana than Impulse (that mana being W specifically in best cases), and searches up one card fewer… but that hardly matters.

Court Hussar should be a solid addition to both U/W beatdown and aggressive strategies. It plays hell for Hearth Kami-style two drops, and seems just fine for regular Grizzly Bears. Even without the 1/3 sticking around – not the optimal scenario, I know – this card still is only marginally worse than Compulsive Research (a card I originally rated as Unplayable – sadly – but that has turned out Staple); digging for a land, it may well be better.

Playable – Staple

Cytoplast Manipulator
In the right deck, this card is unbelievable. Sure, Rakdos and other Red Decks should be able to remove a 2/2 for four mana without a lot of problems, but Selesnya? Good luck with that. Alongside Experiment Kraj and sundry Simic three drops, this creature will be a defining chunk of Pro Tour Charleston, not to mention Standard for the next year or more. Just keep it alive with Plaxmanta or Plaxcaster Frogling, and your deck will essentially play itself.

Playable – Flagship

Enigma Eidolon
Enigma Eidolon is probably the best of the Eidolons, just because Blue is naturally the best color at breaking graveyard velocity for purposes of card advantage (as opposed to pure reanimation, as with Black). Everything I said about White’s Eidolon yesterday applies here, and arguably to a greater extent… This one can also serve as a win condition, albeit a clunky one.

Playable – Role Player

Govern the Guildless
Though not as obviously busted as Cytoplast Manipulator or some of the other strong Blue cards in Dissension, Govern the Guildless seems eminently breakable. Six mana for a Control Magic seems about right for Standard (see Confiscate), and this card can’t be Naturalized.

Playable – Role Player

Helium Squirter
This could be the worst Wonder in Constructed… but probably won’t be (see the Four Mana Rule… this costs one more, etc.)

Constructed Unplayable

Novijen Sages
Off the top, Novijen sages is two cards for eight mana… but you don’t play a card like this one for the obvious read. As a draw engine, Novijen Sages isn’t that much worse than Azami. A 4/4 for six mana is a reasonable Constructed cost on the right body, and this one is more than twice the size of Azami (and on a team that can utilize both the size and the draw ability).

I don’t know if Novijen Sages is ever actually going to make the cut in the Simic decks I am envisioning, but there are some applications in controllish decks, especially going long or in decks capable of moving around a lot of +1/+1 counters.

Playable – Role Player

Ocular Halo
Flavor-wise, this card is great; play-wise it’s a fine draft card… Ocular Halo will show up in Constructed only in strange places. This is another one of those cards that the Shark will sideboard to ruin the day of someone who only expects ‘netdecks, but don’t expect it as a main deck bomb.

Playable – Role Player

This card is unbelievable. The least of its potential is getting a free two-for-one when the opponent brings with his 1/1 into your passed second turn; on the top end, you can stop a Boseiju-powered point elimination spell and net a very serviceable Bear.

I will gladly Remand this Beast.

Playable – Staple

Psychic Possession
At the very least, this card is some protection against a Millstone deck (at least one not packing Vision Skeins or the like) without giving up card advantage. In fact, you can break even or net against decks with dedicated card drawing; remember that Psychic Possession keeps you even on draws even though you are skipping your draw step… but you aren’t actually giving up your own ability to play Compulsive Research, Tidings, and so on.

This is ultimately a very odd card that may have effective applications in certain matchups.

Playable – Role Player

Silkwing Scout
Josh and I have been debating the merits of this card… It’s sort of on the scale of Civic Wayfinder, but a bit more expensive if you want to get the actual search effect. A 2/1 flyer for three is generally better than a Gray Ogre, but the Scout only nets card advantage if the opponent lets you get the two-for-one.

I don’t know if this lass is going to see a lot of play, but there certainly seem to be applications in the right kinds of decks.

Playable – Role Player

One worse than Prosperity? I suppose. Prosperity won its Block’s Pro Tour, and has been effective elsewhere.

The symmetrical nature of this card drawing, the Forecast ability in particular, doesn’t seem bad to me… Mikokoro, Center of the Sea is one of the best cards a board control deck can have against a true control deck, because the true control deck will often have natural card advantage via dead cards and dedicated engines (Jushi Apprentice, et al), and Mikokoro is uncounterable card draw that can help the board control keep pace.

Lastly, Skyscribing may be an important finisher in Glimpse decks in Charleston.

Playable – Flagship or Role Player (I’m not sure… it’s not a Staple)

Spell Snare
Some very bright person already did a whole article on this card.

Just to reiterate, this card is awesome; unlike many Standard-legal counters, this one is guaranteed to net mana (the greatest advantage, ultimately, of Counterspell) as well as breaking up many of the most important plays in tournament Magic (second turn Mongrel, Ravager, Isochron Scepter… even Watchwolf, Eye of Nowhere, or Guildmage).

Thanks to Spell Snare, losing the flip no longer seems bleak for the Blue mage.

Playable – Staple

Tidespout Tyrant
This card is Ex. Pen. Sive.

Any eight you would consider playing should effectively win the game, and this one seems like it would. 5/5 creatures have been ruling the skies since the banning of the artifact lands last year… but then again those cards cost six rather than eight. That said, all the decks that play such sixes tend to hit eight before winning, so I don’t know that the cost is that cost prohibitive given the availability of Kodama’s Reach, Wood Elves, the UrzaTron, and other powerhouse mana accelerators.

Should you untap with this in play, don’t expect to lose.

Playable – Role Player

Vigean Graftmage
This creature isn’t bad at all. I mean it’s “just” a Gray Ogre, but the abilities seem fairly potent in-context.

The two-card combo with Experiment Kraj ain’t bad, either.

Playable – Role Player

Vision Skeins
Vision Skeins is one card worse than Words of Wisdom and doesn’t exactly follow the “I win any game that I’m not manascrewed” “parity” criteria, but Words of Wisdom saw play in both Limited and Extended, so I figure Vision Skeins will split the difference and show up in the latter. It’s a nice and cheap endgame option for deck exhaustion strategies, but is unlikely to see general use.

Playable – Role Player

Writ of Passage
Strangely, I don’t think this card is that bad. Forecast my Dimir Cutpurse? Stranger methods have been used to chase past a Carven Caryatid… I know, I know. This isn’t good.

Constructed Unplayable

In sixteen cards, I only read two as Constructed Unplayable, and even Writ of Passage seems like I could see playing it in certain decks (it being uncounterable and all). There are several awesome cards in this color, with at least five genuine notables and several more that may occupy defining slots in new decks. Here are my top cards for the color:

Dissension Blue Cards of note:

Cytoplast Manipulator, Plaxmanta, and Spell Snare are all unbelievable cards… It’s hard to order them because they are so different… Cytoplast Manipulator is a focal point or silver bullet addition, Plaxmanta only works in certain decks (but boy does it work), and Spell Snare is a general Staple that can go into all different kinds of decks. I think Court Hussar is the next best card in the color; as I said, it’s awesome in both control and aggressive decks.

Aethermage’s Touch
Zvi’s preview gives us a lot of ideas about how Aethermage’s Touch can be played. It is interesting… part Impulse, part Natural Order, Aethermage’s Touch allows you to save mana while setting up your best plays and sending the chaff to the bottom of the deck. Likely this will be a 3M product in decks from Orzhov Knell control to Greater Gifts and beyond… not making them, but making them faster.

Playable – Um… Role Player? Definitely playable, could be Tier 1… I’m just not sure what title to give it.

Azorius Aethermage
Azorius Aethermage definitely gets the gears turning in my head… But I am skeptical about how likely it will be to claim a role in an actual Constructed deck. I’ve already played it in draft in a deck with lots of Karoos, and it didn’t seem fast enough. A 1/1 for three mana that is designed to give up tempo doesn’t seem like anything I’d want outside of a sideboard card for a control mirror (where, to be fair, it could conditionally be good long game).

It seems like the kind of card that could be strong in play but that usually gets cut from the sideboard during the tuning process.

Playable – Role Player

Azorius First-Wing
This card is better in Azorius – almost by definition – than Leonin Skyhunter was in White Weenie or Boros. In fact, I could see them playing on the same team… with Lightning Helix, probably.

Playable – Staple

Azorius Ploy
Complicated combat tricks like this one rarely if ever see Constructed play; Consume Strength seems like it would be more powerful, less conditional, and easier to cast, and it never really made it in 60 card decks. In any case, Azorius Ploy seems at least U, maybe WU, too expensive for this kind of effect.

Constructed Unplayable

Warning: Stapling cards can seriously affect their resale value

Grand Arbiter Augustin IV
I suppose this is what you get when you staple a Planeshift Familiar onto a Sphere of Resistance for essentially the same cost (with a slightly improved body, to be fair). Grand Arbiter Augustin IV is very frustrating to play against for certain decks, as its “Sphere” ability will greatly disrupt certain types of combo and ruin many a beatdown curve. What is maybe more salient is that if you don’t practice against it quite a bit, Grand Arbiter Augustin IV will force mistakes in the same way that a rogue deck might. You will look at the board, decide what you think the Azorius opponent can do, and then eat a Remand from one Hallowed Fountain open. Or in another fight, you’ll lose to a Carom from a single Sacred Foundry.

Playable – Staple

Isperia the Inscrutable
As far as Standard goes, Isperia the Inscrutable reminds me a good deal of Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind, but seems a margin better (assuming the right home, of course). Unlike Niv-Mizzet, Isperia does not directly compete with Kamigawa Dragons. It costs five mana rather than six, and moreover, can fight one of those defining monsters without automatically jumping into the bin. In fact, Isperia is rather synergistic with Kamigawa Dragons… given that it can go fetch Yosei or Keiga. More likely, of course (and especially in Block), is that Isperia finds Sky Hussar, Pride of the Clouds, or one of the other key engine cards, mounting card advantage over card advantage going long.

One important thing to point out is that, unlike other giant threats for five to six mana (Kodama of the North Tree; Meloku the Clouded Mirror; or Ryusei, the Falling Star), Isperia only works in a certain kind of deck. It’s unlikely that this Sphinx can go straight in like, say Patron of Kitsune.

Playable – Role Player

I’m not sure what I make of this card. Definitely Overrule isn’t Absorb… But there are points where it is better. For one thing, you can leave open a ton of mana and always gain a ton of life, even if you are unsuccessful in being able to counter the relevant spell.

As with many modern counters, Overrule will cost more than what it is countering much of the time, meaning that even if you are successful, you can fail against a multiple threat turn.

One thing Josh pointed out is that this is a two-for one against burn decks. You stop the Lightning Helix they throw, and save up for the Char they were planning to send next turn.

Playable – Role Player

Palliation Accord
Generally speaking I’d say this is too expensive for Constructed, but it should be hell on token decks. Slow swarm beatdown decks (WW or U/W, maybe?) both seem vulnerable as well.

Playable – Role Player

Plumes of Peace
This is comparable to Pillory of the Sleepless, which has seen a lot of play in the past few months (in one deck, at least). On the downside, Plumes of Peace lacks the win condition functionality of Pillory; on the other, it has an uncounterable offensive side that is just plain cheap. Moreover, Plumes of Peace can more completely shut down a card, whereas Pillory only keeps it out of combat.

Playable – Role Player

Pride of the Clouds
This is one of the best Azorius cards, and one of the best creatures overall in the entire set. Straight up Pride of the Clouds is just an efficient creature. Though a 1/1 for two mana is hardly the most efficient point on the curve, in the right deck, Pride of the Clouds is the size of a mountain and a Wild Mongrel for the Azorius. Some things to keep in mind:

1) The Forecast on Pride of the Clouds is faster and more powerful than a single Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree by one mana and one keyword.
2) A second Pride of the Clouds makes the first one a lot better.
3) This card plays very nicely with Sky Hussar… uncounterable card advantage plus uncounterable card advantage.

Playable – Staple (like Life from the Loam, could be Flagship)

Sky Hussar
A 4/3 flyer for five mana isn’t great, but it’s also not out of the question as far as Constructed quality creatures go; for example, Air Elemental was a big hit a Regionals in 1997. Now 4/3 is, in most formats, no 4/4, because of cards like Lightning Helix and Volcanic Hammer… but people like Brian Kowal are already dodging Meloku because of Char.

Those of you who insist on doing strange or potentially “broken” things with perfectly good regular cards may enjoy Sky Hussar plus Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker; in today’s Standard, the mana won’t even be that bad…

Playable – Staple

Swift Silence
People will play whatever counter you give them, for whatever cost you print it at; look at the success of Rewind, Last Breath, and even Discombobulate! I don’t think Swift Silence is a “good card” per se, but it will definitely see play. I don’t know if it will ever actually draw the number of cards required to fulfil the fantasies of every Johnny reading this sentence, but it will definitely go two-for-one or better in key tournament rounds over the course of the next year and a half; there are certainly worse tools against Gigadrowse.

Playable – Role Player

I don’t consider “it’s not as good as Morphling” as a reasonable argument against a card.

Honestly this seems pretty good to me. Its stats are sub-Morphling by two, but the potential upside on Windreaver is greater. For example, a Morphling will never hit for more than five, but given long game mana, Windreaver can do considerably more damage than that. Though Windreaver lacks Morphling’s main defensive capability, returning to hand is better in some cases (for example versus Hit // Run or Cruel Edict).

I am not rating this at Staple, even though I think it is a very good card, because the slot is up for grabs. As long as Meloku is legal, it is unlikely Windreaver will claim the five spot, and even in block Isperia and Sky Hussar are going to be fighting for limited room on the curve. That said, this is a very good card that probably plays better than we are reading at first blush… Do you really think they would have wasted such a kickass picture on a blank?

Playable – Role Player

Azorius Guildmage
This is one of the less interesting Guildmages, in my estimation. Countering target activated ability seems strong, but the mana is quite intense; same on the tapping (though being a poly effect is quite sexy… sexier than Azorius Guildmage’s picture, definitely). I just don’t see a player spending tons of mana to get this going when he could be Forecasting lions and birds, or drawing cards with Sky Hussar and laying big board-clogging bombs… Then again, Azorius Guildmage seems like one of the few cards capable of containing Azorius Forecast card advantage without investing a lot of cards (or going into Black), so there is probably hope.

Playable – Role Player

This is one of the most breakable cards in Dissension. I think early it is going to be used as a sideboard card to frustrate intricate strategies, but long term, Dovescape will show up in decks designed to break token parity. It is almost impossible to destroy in Block once it appears… Probably this card will give hope to G/W and similar decks in Standard versus the hated Heartbeat.

Playable – Role Player (could be Flagship)

Available for podcasts

Minister of Impediments
You may be surprised to learn that I quite like this card. It seems like a perfect sideboard card against U/W, G/W or other removal-poor creature decks. Holding down a, say, Loxodon Hierarch for zero mana and little chance of losing my Minister seems about as good as it gets, especially when the rest of the Azorius lineup lets me generate a lot of card advantage and race in the sky.

I’d say Rakdos should hate this creature, but they should not have a lot of problems long term because of Riot Spikes and the like. Still, a very solid creature for pinpoint matchups.

Playable – Role Player

Dissension U/W cards of note:

I’ve been cutting to three for most of these, but I think Pride of the Clouds, Aethermage’s Touch, Dovescape, and Grand Arbiter Augustin IV are all defining cards to watch, and I don’t think you can really eliminate any of them. Don’t forget that Azorius Signet sends you into third turn Grand Arbiter Augustin IV, which accelerates you into fourth turn Dovescape, which can be pretty hot in a lot of matchups… or in the case of the U/W Guild, cooler than the other side of the pillow.

Tomorrow: First Third of the Rakdos