Dissension Constructed Review, Part V: Green

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Mike continues his Constructed rundown of Dissension with a look at the Green cards. Traditionally the home of the wobbly monster, does Dissension Green work hard for our attention? Is the new set a Wakefieldian Dream? And is seven mana really the new six mana? Read on to find out…

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

You know the drill.

Aquastrand Spider
This is a bear, and a fine bear at that, but not a bear, sad to say, that Jon Becker would approve of. Aquastrand Spider has the pejorative “spider” in its creature type, and that demands a certain number of things from Mr. Becker. It doesn’t matter that Aquastrand Spider is mana efficient for its power (with Graft 2 being generally better than an ordinary 2/2), nor that it can help make bystanders more spiderlike, proselytizing the gospel of the First Church of the Most Sacred Arachnid Bee-hind across the multitudes: the Saprolings, the Elves, the Snakes. No, these things do not matter to Jon, who looks for only a few things in a Spider, or any creature really. One of them is a big and wide whale tail. Amongst cross-genre has-beens, does this creature remind you more of bootyshaking J-Lo or rail thin substance abuser Kate Moss? No, Aquastrand “Spider” is not what Mr. Becker would call bottom-heavy. Is Graft 2 better than a vanilla 1/3? In an ideal world, yes; in the eyes of racist creature typist Jon Becker, no. Does it matter? Also no. Secondly, Jon favors the ability to block flying more-or-less unassisted. Does the fact that Aquastrand Spider can spread the wealth relevant to the analysis? Again, no. All that matters to Jon is that power toughness-to-mana cost ratio. Ultimately, Tongo’s Counsel would give this bug the Thumbs Down.

Depending on colors, Aquastrand Spider may have problems making the cut: R/G wants Scab-Clan Mauler, potentially Dryad Sophisticate, or even Gruul Guildmage for offense, and is not really interested in blocking; U/G wants Coiling Oracle on two and has actual flyers in its cadre; G/W has two of the best two drops in the format – Watchwolf and Selesnya Guildmage – meaning that Aquastrand Spider is third string if playable at all… and all of these valuations occur without our leaving the Block. That said, this card is cheap and potentially synergistic with both Bloodthirst and Graft, so, along with a fine Big and Dumb rating, the Spider should see play somewhere, even if it not clear at the outset.

Big and Dumb Rating: 1.17

Playable – Role Player

Cytoplast Root-Kin
This creature is rock solid. One of the best creatures in Standard right now is a 4/4 for four mana… just like this one. Loxodon Hierarch is superb for many reasons, especially in Standard where it can halt Jitte counters as well as provide a 4/4 Gerrard’s Wisdom, but Cytoplast Root-Kin has advantages of its own that make it a reasonable alternative, especially as Team Trios is currently the relevant Constructed format and Block Trios will be in short order.

No, Cytoplast Root-Kin isn’t Loxodon Hierarch, but it seems a fine stand-in. Nettletooth Djinn won money on the Pro Tour, and Cytoplast Root-Kin is 100 times that poor Erhnam substitute (which should be obvious). As with Aquastrand Spider, Graft 4 is better than a vanilla body here, and the Root-Kin’s comes into play ability – especially in concert with Bloodthirst and incumbent Graft creatures – makes it comparable to Loxodon Hierarch at protecting the rest of the team while possessing a first rate body itself. Lastly, the “Spike” ability puts this creature over the top of other Graft creatures, especially when facing targeted removal.

Cytoplast Root-Kin will not be played in lieu of Loxodon Hierarch any time soon, but it is a solid stand-in for Block U/G that either doesn’t want to steal Farseeks or is intended for play next to a Hierarch 187 or Ghazi deck. Solid all around.

Big and Dumb Rating: 1.13

Playable – Staple

Cytospawn Shambler
I said recently that seven may become the new six… but when I was talking about the paradigm shift, I wasn’t talking about Cytospawn Shambler. There is nothing wrong with this creature, and in fact, in Limited, BDM has been calling it “the Green Fireball” because Trample is so hard to deal with, especially when attached to a 6/6. The reality of the Block is that Cytospawn Shambler is playing behind Simic Sky Swallower on the same mana cost in U/G, and Protean Hulk everywhere else.

Pick him reasonably high in Limited, but generally avoid him in Constructed.

Big and Dumb Rating: .93

Constructed Unplayable

Elemental Resonance
Brian Hacker once said that Eladamri’s Vineyard had to be broken because it produced two mana per turn after an initial investment… That just breaks the rules. Now Elemental Resonance doesn’t cost only one mana, but its long-term mana production is significant. For example, you can stick it on something very expensive, like a Dragon, and get six or more mana per turn, based on an investment that you might not have en made. What you would want to do with that mana is unclear, as running Elemental Resonance out there and then passing is tantamount to the third turn “Heartbeat, ship,” that is seldom if sometimes seen in Standard right now. Your plan is to go off over the course of multiple turns (maybe as few as two) but let’s face it, your pants are around your ankles. With Elemental Resonance you aren’t going to hand your opponent a ton of mana, but you are relying at least somewhat on the continued health or at least subsistence of the enchanted permanent.

I am not exactly high on this card, but I can see it as, say, a third turn play that boosts you into Enduring Ideal mana via a permanent of cost three or above.

Playable – Role Player

Fertile Imagination
One of my favorite sideboard cards a few years ago was Blood Oath. While even up to Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] I never really loved “opponent only” burn spells, Blood Oath did a ton of damage for its cost and there was just something special about letting the opponent untap and draw, and then naming “instants.” Another fine tactic was to make the old 0/5 split on a tapped out end of turn Fact or Fiction. Sometimes the jig was up and the opponent would take the 0 pile (but sometimes that’s what you wanted on that gambit split).

Fertile Imagination is no Blood Oath.

For one thing, it’s a sorcery. Half the value of Blood Oath was that you could play it when the opponent was tapped out and get it to resolve. Another was that it would many times win the game immediately with a 21-point hit. Fertile Imagination just puts some token creatures into play. They have to wait a turn to attack and block, and there are any number of terrible fates that may await the little guys before they earn a single swing. That said, I think there is hope for this card, but not against the traditional opponents of Blood Oath. Fertile Imagination may end up being more of a sideboard card in the mirror, where a breaker or the ability to generate more tokens for tapping wars is more valuable than a four mana test spell against a Blue deck.

Playable – Role Player

Flash Foliage
This is just the Green Dazzling Beauty.

Mirage/Mirage/Visions is a relevant Magic Online format now (believe me, I know), but that doesn’t mean that everyone is tearing around out there to pick up four copies of Dazzling Beauty for their new Azorius-bolstered U/W decks. Flash Foliage is a little better and a little worse than Dazzling Beauty on the details… It can’t block flyers, but on the other hand, if it comes to stopping a 0/2 that might power out a Ninja or something, Flash Foliage at least leaves you with a remainder. Via combat tricks, it can also potentially sin a fight.

That does not, however, make this spell good enough for 60 card decks.

Constructed Unplayable

Indrik Stomphowler
I don’t know if this guy is going to be good enough for Standard, but my guess is that Indrik Stomphowler will be a key card in Ravnica Block Constructed. It is on the short list of creatures – any spells, really, in context – that can answer a Dovescape.

Though it is a little on the expensive side, exceeding even the “should win the game” threshold by a point of mana, Indrik Stomphowler seems to be in the perfect spot for playability: He is in a Block with relatively narrow options, in a color that has access to both Congregation at Dawn and Chord of Calling (all good). Additionally, and this is a bit subtle, Indrik Stomphowler can destroy artifacts or enchantments. For a bullet strategy, it takes up half the space usually required of, say, both a Cloudchaser Eagle and a Viridian Shaman. This is a nice tool for deck designers who are always trying to squeeze four or five cards out of a tuned Weapon of Choice.

Big and Dumb Rating: 1.07

Playable – Staple

Loaming Shaman
At first I was a bit underwhelmed with this creature. I haven’t played Feldon’s Cane in some years (and it might have been wrong when I did), and Blocks like Odyssey and this one have taught me to love hurling massive amounts of cards into my graveyard. Why would I want to shuffle cards back, where they have less utility?

Interestingly, there is more than one answer to that question, and Loaming Shaman might actually end up being a pretty good creature in Ravnica Block Constructed, if not Standard or even Extended.

1) Early reports have Glimpse the Unthinkable as the default combo deck in Team Trios. Alone or on the wings of a Chord of Calling, Loaming Shaman can be amazing against a deck exhaustion strategy. Not only can it save you from being Milled out, you can pick and choose what you want to shuffle back in, so that you draw nothing but gas going forward.

2) Especially early on, before things have gotten too far out of hand, you can just run this guy out there and invalidate the opponent’s initial strategic development. For example, say the format is Extended and he declined to drop a land or any reasonable development in order to run a short term discard-into-Troll Dredge trying to set up Ichorids. You can really punish an opponent on that plan just by running this guy out there. Eat whatever is relevant (including his key Dredge cards), and you can really stymie a Dredge strategy while deploying a clock.

3) The strategies can be combined, of course. Firemane Angels? Not this game! Instant speed Loaming Shaman? Not a bad card against Patriarch’s Bidding

I don’t know if this is the card that will pull Friggorid back into the realm of mortal decks in Extended, but Loaming Shaman seems very long on potential for a format that includes deck exhaustion as a combo or win condition and Dredge as a powerhouse Guild mechanic.

Big and Dumb Rating: .94

Playable – Role Player (Staple?)

Might of the Nephilim
Two mana Giant Growths have never been popular in Constructed. Besides Gabriel Nassif Mirrodin Block deck from Worlds 2004, I can’t actually think of a playable deck that used this class of card. That said, Might of the Nephilim is somewhat reminiscent of the Echoing Courages that Nassif played in his Beacon of Creation deck, in that it gives the Green mage more than JUST that +2/+2, at least conditionally. Ravnica is full of two-color creatures (and this card is named for some fairly unplayable four-color ones), so it sort of implies a +4/+4. In a deck with a lot of Watchwolves and Loxodon Hierarchs, maybe Might of the Nephilim will be good enough.

Playable – Role Player

Patagia Viper
Despite its low Big and Dumb Rating, I rather like Patagia Viper. Even though its printed power is only two, this slithery has essentially four points of power (thanks to the barns). It is also a reasonably good racer because of the combination of an evasion clock and two potential chump blockers.

Many of the cards in this set make me want to try to build Snakes. Snakes was never a statistically outstanding deck in Kamigawa Block, but it was the most popular top-line archetype of Pro Tour Philadelphia anyway, and earned a Top 8 in the hands of Jeff Novekoff. I don’t know if a U/G Snakes deck will be able to run with the modern B/W decks, but the cards are better than ever, and any decks with Sakura-Tribe Elder, Sensei’s Divining Top, and Umezawa’s Jitte will outclass B/W on pure card power. Brian Kibler pointed out that Gifts Ungiven – a onetime Top 5 card that has been conspicuously absent from Tier 1 since Guildpact – is a perfect Snake engine card. You can Gifts for Seshiro, Sosuke’s Summons, and Sakura-Tribe Elder, for instance, and the opponent will never be able to make a split that denies you the Summons. The Simic guildhall and several of the gold cards – Coiling Oracle in particular – are all highly synergistic U/G Snake cards that will give both control and pure aggro difficulties.

… And this Snake flies. Who better to carry a Jitte?

Big and Dumb Rating: .92

Playable – Role Player

Protean Hulk
I find this card a difficult one to rate. On the one hand, I know it is Aaron Forsythe favorite card in the set, so I figure Protean Hulk has some great merit. On the other hand, Protean Hulk is a very expensive creature, and even though I think that sevens are becoming the new sixes, seven mana is still three more than I ideally like to spend on my fantastic creatures or magical spells, so I am skeptical about even the best sevens (Angel of Despair, Debtors’ Knell, and so on).

On the bright side, Protean Hulk can actually get better when it is killed, much like a Kamigawa Dragon. If you can set up reanimation or some kind of creature Tinker, it can be hell alongside, say, Greater Good. The issue is that the default Greater Good decks are based on Goryo’s Vengeance, and Goryo’s Vengeance has zero interaction with this card. Perhaps Aethermage’s Touch is the card to set this up? If you Touch for the Hulk with Greater Good in play, you can sacrifice it to draw a ton of cards and set yourself up with a Kamigawa Dragon permanently. You can obtain a Hierarch and net a Snake, or if you are really greedy, you can sacrifice the Hulk on your own turn for a Gleancrawler intended to rebuy the Hulk.

I based the Big and Dumb Rating on Yosei, which I figured would be the most ridiculous creature that Protean Hulk will set up as a matter of course. Even combined with Kokusho, Protean Hulk’s Big and Dumb Rating would be 1.05, well above the curve for a creature of this cost.

Big and Dumb Rating: 1.14

Playable – Role Player

Simic Basilisk
Magic is full of memorable combinations. The first one I ever happened upon was Kird Ape plus basic Forest (I did not know about Taiga at the time). Then I saw Magical Hack and wanted to rewrite words like “Swamp” on Karma and built decks around cards like those and Circle of Protection: Black. Moving up the value chain we have Kismet plus Stasis, Palinchron plus Stroke of Genius, Illusions of Grandeur plus Donate, and the ever-popular land plus spell.

A 3/3 body plus six mana cost, though, is a combination on the order of Goblins of the Flarg plus Dwarven Nomad facing basic Mountain, or perhaps oil plus water. It is almost offensive to me that the Basilisk’s death gaze ability requires mana to be spent, offense on the order of Jon Becker probable ire concerning Aquastrand Spider (above).

Big and Dumb Rating: .56

Constructed Unplayable

Simic Initiate
It is highly unlikely that Simic Initiate will see Standard play. It is worse than Llanowar Elves 99% of the time. However, in Ravnica Block, I can see it getting in there (who wants to trade his card for this?) and then following up with Scab-Clan Mauler, at which point it hands over its Graft counter (of course). A 4/4 trampler on the second turn is not the easiest thing in the world for most decks to stop. Normally Scab-Clan Mauler is very good, but at 4/4, it will escape Last Gasp and Lightning Helix… This is more a testament to the power of 3/3 creatures for two mana than Simic Initiate, but its suicide Graft is nevertheless relevant to the application.

Big and Dumb Rating: 1.17

Playable – Role Player

Simic Ragworm
Aside from enchanting it with Ocular Halo or some such, I don’t know why I would ever want to play this card in Constructed… And seeing as how my Constructed deck has Ocular Halo and Simic Ragworm in it, I would have additional questions if you take my meaning.

Big and Dumb Rating: .83

Constructed Unplayable

Sporeback Troll
This is one of the weaker trolls in some time for Constructed. I mean no one is saying Wizards of the Coast should have reprinted Troll Ascetic, but my impression of this card is that it is a little bit too small for its size, and that no one would ever want to play it. I’ve had Sporeback Troll in Limited before, and it has been good at defending my creatures during combat, but that doesn’t mean that it will provide any kind of a reliable defense in Constructed. I just have no idea why anyone would want to play this.

Big and Dumb Rating: .79

Playable – Role Player (but barely and maybe only in odd matchups… probably unplayable)

Sprouting Phytohydra
This card is exceedingly dumb. If it cost two, we would have another Sun Droplet on our hands, making for some comically frustrating games. Sprouting Phytohydra, though, does not cost two. It costs five. That means that if Sprouting Photohydra is your planned defense, you probably took 3-4 turns of beats before drawing it, and might not be able to come back on the… um… strength of a 0/2 Plant.

Once in play, Sprouting Photohydra is extremely annoying to deal with. Despite its small size, this creature never gives up. It will block the same much larger opponent over and over again. You can combine Sprouting Photohydra with some kind of Pestilence or Prodigal Sorcerer effect to produce more and more Defenders (again, assuming the opponent gives you the breathing room). Of course, none of this matters, because no one blocks in Constructed… especially not with fives.

Big and Dumb Rating: .44

Constructed Unplayable

Stomp and Howl
Once upon a time, in another polychromatic Block, there was a card called Hull Breach. When I first saw Hull Breach, I thought it would not just obsolete White splash cards like Wax / Wane, but rewrite what it was to play a big G/R deck. Prior to Planeshift, the set in which Hull Breach was printed, the G/R decks of the era shared several cards (Blastoderm in particular), but the details were up to each mage individually. They answered enchantments with four mana sorceries, or by splashing additional colors, or not at all according to their own notions of what was important. Decks ranged from The Red Zone to three- or even four-color Fires decks, to Zvi Mowshowitz simple and straightforward G/R “My” Fires.

I thought that with Hull Breach available to G/R sideboards, no one would want to deviate from the most consistent mana base.

Ultimately I was wrong, and Hull Breach never even became that popular of a card in Fires of Yavimaya decks. Hull Breach was very versatile, allowing a player to destroy either an artifact or an enchantment, or both… and it saw far less play than I might have expected. Stomp and Howl, by comparison, has a targeting restriction that means that even against the decks where you want this card, you may not be able to cast it on the turn you need to.

Constructed Unplayable

Street Savvy
This card is marginally worse than Web (flying is more common landwalk in a vacuum). The good news is that no one plays Web, so their decks are a margin better than they could be for not playing it. The bad news is that I have a Web that I opened in a Revised pack that could have been holding, say, a Volcanic Island. At least the “New Web” isn’t Rare.

Constructed Unplayable

I don’t think I would ever play this card maindeck, except in very odd circumstances. For example, I could build a Dovescape deck that uses Thrive as a sort of X-spell, making 1/1 flyers. This seems like a terrible choice to me, though, because there are cards with similar mana costs that are just better in the abstract (Supply / Demand, for instance).

I could see Thrive sideboarded in for a pseudo-mirror match. Sometimes is just comes down to tokens, and if yours are 2/2, that means that the opponent’s 1/1s are So. Last. Year.

Playable – Role Player

Utopia Sprawl
This card is to Wild Growth what Farseek is to Rampant Growth… kind of. I don’t see this card getting much action with Sakura-Tribe Elder in the mix. I am not sure if Utopia Sprawl is behind Wild Growth or not in Enchantress decks. On the one hand, it produces any color… On the other hand, it only goes on a Forest, which may be an issue early game.

Playable – Role Player

Verdant Eidolon
Verdant Eidolon allows you to go straight from four mana to play this (perhaps on turn 3?) up to 6-7 immediately. As such, as far as primary strategies go, this is probably the best of the Eidolons for Constructed. As with the other Eidolons, this one can serve as a “Squee” and come back over and over again via multicolored cards. It also happens to be in the same color as Golgari Grave-Troll. Will there be a Dredge/Eidolon engine busting out at Charleston? Personally, I doubt it.

Playable – Role Player

Dissension Green Cards of Note:

The purely best card in the color is likely Cytoplast Root-Kin. It’s a quintessential “Green” card, with superb power (and in this case toughness!)-to-mana cost ratio. Indrik Stomphowler will be ubiquitous in Block Constructed for its 187 abilities and large body. The most interesting cards from my perspective are the expensive Protean Hulk and the inexpensive Loaming Shaman. One of them is a powerful proactive bomb, combining with other strategic Constructed cards to advance a deck strategy, while the other is there to stifle one.

On Monday, we wrap up Green with the Simic… Oh, and the Rakdos will show their ugly faces too.