Dissension In The Ranks: A Look At Four Standard Decks, Post-Dissension

Dave presents us with not one, not two, not three… but four Standard decklists. Updating the stronger archetypes in the current Standard with new cards from Dissension, this article is a fine springboard from which to plan your respective Regional assaults.

The month of May brings not only May flowers and Communist parades, but also Regionals, one of my favorite tournaments. This year, I shall be returning to see if I can duplicate my Top 4 performance (and hopefully through actually winning, not my opponent getting DQ’ed).

(However, I shall once again beef about putting Regionals two weeks after the release of the third set, which makes getting the cards to put together top-notch Azorius, Simic, and Rakdos decks both a difficult and expensive proposition — but no one seemed to mind too much last year — so just ignore me, tilting at windmills over here, nothing to see here, move along, move along…)

The new U/G and U/W decks I’ll leave to Flores (although something about Plaxmanta, Experiment Kraj, and Cytoplast Manipulator starts my Deck Builder Sense tingling…either that, or there were too many jalapenos in the chili). Rather, I’m going to concentrate on what Dissension adds to the existing Tier 1 Standard decks, a short list that includes:

U/R Control (Wafo-Tapa)
U/R Tron
B/W Ghost Husk
Ghost Dad
Heezy Street
Greater Good

Good heavens, that’s not a short list. I think I’ll winnow it down a bit or we’ll be here all day.

You would think that Heartbeat would gain the most from Dissension, being as it’s a U/G deck and you have the Simic in all their glory, but despite the obvious goodies (Breeding Pool, heh), I was initially underwhelmed. Upon closer examination, I saw there were definitely a few cards that could be shoehorned in.

Spell Snare: Mike Flores already touched on the power of this card in his preview, but I’m more than willing to go out on a limb and say that this card will have the biggest impact on Standard than anything else in Dissension.

Off the top of my head, here are the spells you can counter — not just “unless you pay 1”, “unless you pay 3,” “unless you do the Hokey Pokey and turn yourself around,” – but absolutely, positively, say “what part of ‘NO!’ don’t you get?” with Spell Snare: Umezawa’s Jitte, Izzet Signet, Remand, Mana Leak, Watchwolf, Kami of Ancient Law, Eye of Nowhere, Volcanic Hammer, Selesnya Guildmage, Naturalize, Dryad Sophisticate, Boomerang, Sakura Tribe-Elder, Muddle the Mixture, Tin Street Hooligan, Tallowisp.

That’s just what I could come up with in 30 seconds. What current Standard deck doesn’t run two or more of these cards?

Just about any deck running any kind of counterspell suite is going to want to run multiples of Spell Snare… but does Heartbeat? It’s a good combo deck, possibly the best deck in Standard, and all good combo decks are tight – trying to wedge in new cards either makes them a) really bad or b) even better. You can’t replace Muddle the Mixture with it; since Muddle serves dual purpose as counter and tutor, and I wouldn’t take this out for the Time Walk cantrip that Remand can be.

In any other U/x deck, this is maindeck material. For Heartbeat, it’s a likely sideboard addition.

Voidslime: I like the progeny of Counterspell and Stifle (see what happens when those office romances bloom?). An absolute hard counter for three mana and no drawback (save the G in the casting cost) is pretty damn good in my book.

That being said, is it strictly better than Remand for Heartbeat? Three mana hard counter versus two mana soft counter/cantrip. Let me consult the Magic 8-Ball… well, it says, “come back later,” so that’s no help. My initial feeling is: no. Remand’s versatility and cheapness is better than a more expensive hard counter requiring three colored mana. However, as we get closer to Regionals and the metagame starts shaping up a little better, Voidslime may become a more attractive option.

I could most definitely be wrong. I freely admit I’m not the greatest combo player in the world, and Heartbeat isn’t my cup of tea (I generally only play combo decks along that obey the Retarded Monkey Rule; to wit, a retarded monkey would have to be able to play the deck and win with it — Fluctuator/Living Death, that’s a Retarded Monkey combo deck).

Coiling Oracle: If you’ve read Mike Flores‘ latest review of the Simic, you pretty much know everything you need to know about this card. Given that a good part of Heartbeat’s engine is built along the now-classic land search/shuffle effect engine with Sensei’s Divining Top, I don’t see this replacing Sakura-Tribe Elder in the deck. In a good Simic-based deck, though, that’s another story.

Stomp and Howl: Will most likely see as much play as Decimate did, which is to say, none at all.

Vigean Intuition: Wow, a five-mana Impulse. With Tops, you basically have a three-card Impulse for one mana every turn. Bleah.

Split Cards: Now, I am bound and determined to not only exhaust my supply of horrible Magic-related puns, but to put Bound/Determined in a Heartbeat deck. I’m not sure if you want to run it main, but I would definitely put at least one in the sideboard. Dedicated control decks can give a combo deck fits; there’s no Mana Short in this environment, and Gigadrowse just doesn’t quite do it for me. Determined, however, is the hammer that can force through the combo when you’re ready to go off, and can be tutored for with Muddle, please note.

No, you can’t use the Bound part of the card. May I instead recommend Bound, the first film by the Wachowski Brothers? I’ve never watched it all the way through, mind you… I never get past the half-hour mark…

IMdb it.

The other split split card, Research/Development, looks promising, but it lacks the pinpoint tutorability of Cunning Wish, its obvious predecessor. There’s a degenerate Vintage deck with it, I’m sure… but in Standard, I find it too random to be useful.

Here’s a potential decklist with a few — very few – Dissension cards slid in. Yes, the sideboard is horrible. It’s a work in progress, bear with me.

Of the three U/R decks, all of which are highly playable, Izzetron fits the bill as “one of these things is not like the other.” Both Vore and Wafo-Tapa are very narrow decks with few win conditions, tons of card drawing, and they depend on slowing down their opponent through resource denial (Vore through land kill, Wafo-Tapa with scads of counters). Izzetron can ramp up to obscene amounts of mana much earlier and is much broader, with four to five different cards that can act as the kill mechanism, and more of them.

Vore pretty much gets zippo from Dissension; that deck is about as tight as it’s going to get. Wafo-Tapa gets Spell Snare, which should actually make the deck better, but that’s another article. Of the three U/R decks, Izzetron comes out ahead in terms of playable goodies from the third set.

Demonfire: While I don’t think the Hellbent mechanic is going to be that useful to decks that generally want to keep cards in hand, that’s not to say some of the Hellbent-enhanced cards aren’t worth playing. Demonfire, for example, is plainly superior to Blaze even without Hellbent, and obviously should replace that card in Izzetron. With a little subterfuge, perhaps, a lethal and uncounterable Demonfire is a distinct possibility.

Govern the Guildless: Of all the Blue decks mentioned, Izzetron is the one that can best abuse this card, given the deck’s ability to ramp up to obscene amounts of mana. It’s not quite as broad as Confiscate, but it can’t be Naturalized or Kami’ed (which is not a word as yet, but you, good reader, should catch my drift). There are some situations where Confiscate is the better card, but the overall strength and permanence of Govern earns it the slot over the six-mana enchantment for now.

Spell Snare: Discussed previously. I’d put it in the sideboard, since it’s goodness against the two-mana cards of the world is awesome… when facing down something in the three or more range, it gets a little sketchy.

Split Cards: The Odds half of Odds / Ends seems intriguing, but there’s a catch: the time you want to counter something, you’ll end up with a copy, and the time you want a copy, you’ll end up countering something. Unless it’s a Frenetic Efreet, I’ve always been dubious of coin-flipping cards. Is Goblin Bookie legal? It’s not? Scratch that, then. The U/R half of Research / Development might be playable, since the tokens don’t go away; otherwise it’s just a bad Tidings. Neither of these cards by themselves is good enough to replace cards already in the deck.

B/W Aggro (Ghost Husk)
You know, “Ghost Husk” really isn’t the catchiest name (and, as my six readers should know by now, it’s all about the catchy name). It’s too much like “Ghost Dad,” which I believe Ben Goodman has trademarked, registered and, while I don’t believe he’s that litigious, rumor has it he roams the wastelands of the American West with his burning © and ® brands, insanely cackling as he leaves his marks on the foreheads of the forumites who have mocked him.

Since there’s has been a Nantuko Husk based deck in the past named “Hüsker Dü” if I remember correctly, then how about “Hüsker Deüx,” a wonderful play on words in more ways than one?

But no one’s going to use it now, so “Ghost Husk” it is. Pity.

Brain Pry: This must be one of them “skill tester” cards we hear about. Comparisons with Cabal Therapy are obvious, but this is clearly no Cabal Therapy. B/W Husk is not a discard heavy deck, and there’s no way I’d take out Castigates for this card. In a different deck, however, this has potential.

Infernal Tutor: I’ll be honest: I have no idea how good this card might be; it really depends upon how good your hand is. If I’ve got a Mortify or Castigate in hand, its value goes up. If I’m stuck with an Isamaru, then that answer is no.

Seal of Doom: Doesn’t kill Black creatures. Not an instant. Great in a Hellbent-oriented deck. Not here.

Rakdos Guildmage: It’s a nice bit of removal and a way to get rid of redundant cards in hand — it certainly does more than his Orzhov counterpart — but with is it better than Plagued Rusalka, for example, which is also an important part of the haunt/Pontiff engine?

If the ability was dependent upon sacrificing a creature, it’d be an auto-include. I don’t think it’s good enough otherwise.

Guardian of the Guildpact: Don’t laugh. Protection from monocolored means it can block almost anything all the live-long day, and it’s nigh-impossible to kill with most spot removal spells. That said, four mana for a “meh” 2/3 probably won’t cut it.

Split Cards: The Seek half of Hide / Seek looks promising, but looks can be deceiving. If you’re up against a deck that has very limited win conditions, like Wafo-Tapa, it’s borderline playable. Strictly speaking, though, being able to deal with a potential threat now with Castigate is better than trying to deal with a threat down the road with Seek. The life gain is a nice bonus, especially if facing a deck that is chock-full of six- and seven-mana monsters, but I suspect this card is more at home in a deck like Bad Religion or Roxodon Hierarchy.

Similarly, Crime / Punishment is too expensive for a deck that doesn’t depend on reanimation strategies, or have a spell that costs more than four in the deck.

I’ve based my testing build on Osyp’s version of Ghost Husk, which may or may not be the best deck in Standard — who am I to argue with Joe Black? When I’ve been playing around with Ghost Husk in recent playtesting sessions, I’m not finding many enchantments worth worrying about, and a 2/2 bear that protects my team and enables a late-game alpha strike seems better than Seal-of-Cleansing-on-a-Stick (although, now have ten Legendary creatures in the deck, you do run the chance of the occasional Legend glut in this configuration). Feel free to disagree. I also don’t care for the foursome of Orzhov Basilica (primarily, I suspect, due to the popularity of U/R among my fellow local testers), so I’ve cut it down to three. Again, feel free to disagree. I’m not the boss of you.

Heezy Street
It’s not easy being Heezy. Or maybe it is; I’ve never met everyone’s favorite Magic-player-on-a-game-show before. Or maybe it’s that it’s not easy being cheesy, but I have never found that to be the case.

Again, I digress.

Rakdos Pit Dragon: Of all the decks previously mentioned, Gruul Beats is the one that can actually abuse the Hellbent mechanic outside of dedicated Rakdos. That said, which of the Hellbent cards are able to be properly abused? The Pit Dragon is insane with Hellbent, and you should have the Red mana to sink into it. But three toughness means most any spot removal can take it out, and for four mana, I think I’d rather have a Rumbling Slum.

Avatar of Discord: You see that three in the toughness column? And the triple Red in the casting cost? Can you say “unplayable?” I knew you could!

Rakdos Guildmage: Not a fit in Ghost Husk, how about here? A 2/1 Goblin every turn is going to be difficult for many decks to deal with; other decks aren’t going to care that much. Unlike Cursed Scroll, which the Red half the Guildmage is compared to, he’s not a guaranteed two to the dome. Still, a 2/2 for two is fairly efficient, and the ability makes for some late-game possibilities if it slides in against a slower control deck.

Cackling Flames: Three damage for four mana? Not very cost efficient compared to Char and Flames of the Blood Hand. Five burn for four mana? Very cost efficient. But there is that little matter of enabling Hellbent…

Simic Initiate: Graft in Heezy? Not unthinkable. I was recently introduced to the brokenness that is graft creatures plus Giant Solifuge (you think a 4/1 hasty trampler is bad, try a 6/3). But a do-nothing 1/1 isn’t the way to go, the best choice would be the 4/4 Cytoplast Root-Kin. Only costs four, too, with a wide behind.

Seal of Fire: Zoo runs Shock, so this would be a likely superior replacement in that deck. Heezy Street does not run Shock, so I’m not sure what I’d take out for it. Frenzied Goblin, perhaps?

War’s Toll: Now we’re cooking with gas! I was re-reading Mark Herberholz tournament report recently, and he commented that the Blood Moon in the sideboard was pretty much worthless. This, on the other hand, has the potential to be the bane of any dedicated control deck (and, Heartbeat, I’m looking at you, too) and makes it difficult to leave defenders back when the board is deadlocked — you swing with one Illusion token, you swing with them all. This, I believe, is an auto-include into the sideboard.

Cytoplast Root-Kin: 4/4’s for four are pretty much de rigeur for inclusion in a Green-based deck, and the ability to spread counters around seems pretty appetizing, but I suspect that he’s more at home in a deck with Simic tomfoolery, not one as straightforward as a classic R/G stomp-‘n-burn deck.

Split Cards: Now, the Pure half of Pure / Simple looks pretty promising. However, since the purpose of having burn in the deck is to have the option to throw it either at a) a creature or b) to the dome, Alice, to the dome; and given that it can’t even kill a Dryad Sophisticate; my initial response is to leave this card alone unless there’s a multicolored card in the environment that simply says, “You lose, Heezy,” that can’t be burned out or Naturalized. I haven’t seen that card yet.

Similarly, the Run half of Hit / Run is too expensive when there’s nothing in the deck that cost more than four mana.

I’m playing with the Guildmage in the Mauler slot, which I suspect may be a mistake (Mauler plus Cloak tends to equal “gg”), but this is why we test, no? I really wanted to try and find a home for Cytoplast Root-Kin, but I’m not taking out the-Insect-that’s-not-an-insect for it.

So, yes, four decks that don’t seem to have changed that much since Dissension’s release. That’s part of the downside of the guild setup; a fair amount of inflexibility between the two-color combinations. Sometimes, however, the addition or subtraction of a single card can make a deck really come together… or fall apart completely.

Dave Meddish