The Kitchen Table #135: Dissension and Highlander

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Abe looks back at the casual stalwarts of Dissension, and examines how each of the supposed powerful cards have actually performed in practice. Were the cards all they promised? And is Dissension a casual success?

By the time you read this article I’ll already be one week into a seven-week leave of absence from my job, which I am referring to as my sabbatical. Who knows what I’ll be doing during my sabbatical… although I’d like to work on my writing eventually. I don’t know anything yet, since I am writing this a week and two days earlier. If you want to find out, you can ask in the forum, and I may update you on what has happened since.

I am in a really weird place right now. I find it difficult to write because I am about to begin my sabbatical, and my mind is not on writing. I can’t even build a deck! I do have a canned article that I am saving for a rainy day. I could send that in.

However, I’m a guaranteed weekly writer now. It’s time for me to bear through the occasional bit of writing despondency. As I think about it, though, there is something I could do.

When I write my Five Color reviews of sets, I often skip past interesting cards for my own decks because I want to highlight cards that are good for Five Color play. However, some of these cards I really like.

Everybody has read set reviews. Sometimes it seems like everybody writes set reviews, too. What if I wrote an article where I come back to the newly released cards a short while after their release, and talked about those that have already become stars?

The only deck I’ve played much recently is my own Deck of Happiness and Joy, my ultimate highlander deck using Five Color rules and well over a thousand cards. I can relate the cards that have really done well for me thus far, and give you an idea of what to play.

All of the games I have played since the release of Dissension have been multiplayer. Therefore, these cards shined in a multiplayer environment, not in duels. I wanted to make sure I pointed that out.

Let’s take a look at some of the winners, alphabetically. I’ll also toss in an occasional card that I think has potential for one of my decks. In other words, these aren’t about general uses, but specific ideas that I have.

I Just Wanted to Bold Something to Make It Look Like an Important Section

Azorius Aethermage – Probably one of the best new cards to try out in my Equinaut deck. Drawing cards is good. Play a Fleetfoot Panther in order to bounce a Battlemage, then pay one to bounce something of my opponent’s off an Equilibrium, and another one to draw a card. I’m very happy with that. It is a bit mana-hungry, however. There is another element about the Aethermage that would work in Equinaut. Although it feels like it has an enchantment ability, you get it on a creature, so you can use Equilibrium with it and save it with a Panther because it’s White. Therefore, playing it does not interfere with my high creature-count. Online, it combos well with Shrieking Drake.

Bond of AgonyOne of the players in our group thought that Bond of Agony read “B, sorcery, pay X life, target player loses X life,” instead of reading XB in the cost. He played Lava Spike on me, and then tried to kill me with Bond of Agony on the second turn, but was disconcerted to find out that he read the card wrong. I wanted to let you know that this is not better than Hatred, just in case you were reading it incorrectly.

Bound / Determined – I used the Determined side to draw a card when I tutored with an Enlightened Tutor and needed to use that tutored card immediately. I had out a good sacrifice choice for Bound at the same time – an Azorius Guildmage. I liked that it was good to draw for either half, instead of just one half being useful. It felt more like Spite / Malice and less like Wax/Wane, if that makes sense. Normally, when I draw Wax / Wane, only one half, if either, is useful. Spite / Malice, however, is always useful, because both sides come in handy on more than one occasion.

Coiling OracleI played Coiling Oracle on the second turn in one of my games, and a lot of people remarked that it was a good card. It’s no Sakura-Tribe Elder, but then again, later in the game, I’d rather have a chance at drawing a business spell than another basic land. Coiling Oracle is always good, while Sakura-Tribe Elder is sometimes just a 1/1.

Court HussarI played Court Hussar on the third turn in another game, and again, people remarked at how solid he was. For three mana, I get a decent blocker plus a slightly smaller Impulse. It really is a solid effect in multiplayer. Sure, it’s no Wall of Blossoms, but then again, it can attack for one.

Cytoplast Root-KinI find graft to be a relatively boring ability. We’ve already done the whole, “play with +1/+1 counters” in Mirrodin, and then earlier in Stronghold. In Stronghold it was fun. In Mirrodin it was cute. Now I’m getting bored of the whole thing. However, the Root-Kin is one of two really fun Graft creatures that I will just play on its own merits. Graft is another reason to play Spike Cannibal, by the way, if you weren’t already.

Experiment KrajHas there ever been as bad a banner card as this? This was supposed to be one of the banner cards of the set. It was previewed with much hurrah! Still, it has an ability that is strictly worse than Quicksilver Elemental – which copies abilities from any creature, not just certain ones. Are you playing many Quicksilver Elementals in your decks? I’m not. Instead we get a harder to cast, slightly beefier, Quicksilver Elemental with an odder and more limited way of copying abilities. What a disappointment. Sometimes it seems like I put everything in Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy, and yet even I passed over the Kraj. To be fair, this little rant didn’t fit into my list – I just wanted to say it.

Flash FoliageA great way to fog any creature, plus I can always find ways to sacrifice the creature (see last week’s Goblin Bombardment kick). Additionally, you get to draw a card, which is nice. The best thing about it is that I get to start fights when I Flash Foliage an unblockable creature or a flyer. Sometimes people don’t believe me when I tell them that if it says it is blocking a creature, then it is blocking a creature, no matter whether it is Pro Green or shadow or whatever. It can even sometimes kill a creature. Blocking the unblockable, killing one-toughness creatures, another sacrifice to the GBB, and I get to draw a card all on a splashable casting cost. Oh yes, I like this card a lot.

Guardian of the GuildpactIn most situations that I’ve encountered thus far, Guardian of the Guildpact really reads “Protection from all colors. Not artifacts, though.” Except for the Ate Brothers and the Fy Sisters (Vindicate and Terminate are the Ate brothers, while Putrefy and Mortify are the Fy Sisters), not much gets played that is going to off the Guardian. Everything from Swords to Plowshares, to Flametongue Kavu, to Rend Flesh, simply doesn’t see the Guardian. It also blocks practically every creature played on the ground without taking damage. This has already proven to be an effective wall; a nice, unblockable creature; and a very hard to kill threat. For real fun, toss a Shielding Plax on it (Shielding Plax is two colors, making it a legitimate aura for the Guardian) in order to prevent the Ate Brothers and the Fy Sisters from ruining its day. Plus, you never know when someone decides to run something wacky, like Plague Spores or something.

Indrik StomphowlerI’ve already used the Stomphowler for offing an opposing Sylvan Library. A splashable 187 creature with a kick (No pun intended… seriously, because I don’t like puns.) is a nice bonus for my highlander Five Color deck. I started beating with my Stomphowler, and people feared it. Plus, mine’s foil from one of the booster boxes I opened, so there’s that too.

Loaming ShamanI’ve already used Loaming Shaman in one of my deck articles. I’ve already played him in a game where I offed a person’s graveyard, taking away their ability to use their Glory. Loaming Shaman may be one of the best cards in the new set. I love that aggressively priced creature with the solid ability.

Mistral ChargerI had to pull out a few cards from my real Five Color deck for other decks, so I tossed in a quartet of Mistral Chargers. I only played the deck twice, but both times I drew a Charger and they are nice. I love that they are Clampable, as I was able to run with that in one game. In the other, my flying, easy-to-cast beater dealt twelve damage before it was taken out. I like these guys a lot.

Novijen SagesThis is the other graft creature that I like. It feels a lot like the Exodus card Mindless Automaton. If you need to, you can always sac the Sages to draw a pair of cards. It also has a solid size for a Blue creature. I don’t like graft that much, but I’ll use it occasionally.

Patagia ViperThis might be another card to try out in the Equinaut deck. Remember, you want all creature cards to be either White or Green so that a Fleetfoot Panther can bounce them, and the Viper fits the bill, in addition to brining some tokens to the table. This may be highly valuable in Glare of Subdual versions of Equinaut.

Protean Hulk (Eldritch Shapeshifter)– I am really beginning to enjoy this fellow’s ability. I played him earlier in one of my Five Color matchups, and due to his size, he was killed rather quickly. Once he died, I searched my library for creatures up to six casting cost total, and I think I got three walls to help me stave off attackers – Blossoms, Roots and Mulch. That gives me four cards in all when I sac them to the Mulch and draw one off the Blossoms. In addition to brining a fast defense, it also refilled my hand later when I didn’t need them anymore.

Pure / Simple – I sat with a Pure / Simple in my hand for a while during a Five Color game, and it always had some value, but I wanted it to have more. I used it to pop all auras and equipment, taking out a pair of Squirrel Nests. I think that’s about as bad as this card gets, with potential for a lot more.

RagamuffynI gave this card to a ladyfriend of mine who always calls herself a “scrubamuffin” after she works out. She laughed a lot. See, you can use Magic cards to score points with the ladies.

Riot SpikesI was playing a three-player multiplayer game over the weekend. I started. I dropped Tundra Wolves, and then the next player played Riot Spikes to kill my Wolves. The third player played Llanowar Elves, and I pointed out, with great sarcasm, that my Tundra Wolves were a much better target than the Elves. This is why you never use removal until the last minute. You want as much information as possible.

Supply / Demand – I have high hopes for this card in my highlander deck. Demand is a tutor, and those are always in short supply. Supply gives you a constant mana sink to create an army that threatens everyone. This is another of the new split cards that feels more like Spite / Malice and less like Wax / Wane. You can always use creatures and you can always use a tutor, so it’s perfect. This is the best split card in the set for a vast highlander deck.

Trygon PredatorThe very first Dissension card that I ever played in multiplayer was the flying manta of doom. It got much respect from the table, as well as taking out the occasional artifact.

VoidslimeI already used it to counter a Nevinyrral’s Disk activation. Then I flipped my morphed Nantuko Vigilante and destroyed it. I laughed, and others saw the power of the Voidslime. I think this may be the best counter for multiplayer in a very long time. You can stop annoying activations of things like Pernicious Deed, while also countering any spell. I’ve found this to be very nice, very versatile, and very, very useful.

Anybody who reads my articles will know that I value versatility, especially in multiplayer. You never know what someone will play or do, and I feel that it is always best to maximize your options.

I prefer to play Orim’s Thunder over Disenchant in any deck with Red and White. I’d rather play Oblation than Disenchant. I’d rather play Pillage over Stone Rain. I’d rather play Spite / Malice over Dissipate. I’d rather play Fire / Ice over Shock.

What strike me about the Dissension cards, as I play them, is that a lot of them feel less powerful, but more versatile, and that suits my play style just fine. Trygon Predator may not be the biggest threat ever, but he can pop all things artifact and enchantment. Coiled Oracle is not as powerful as Sakura-Tribe Elder, but it is more versatile.

Do you want versatility in your decks? Look no further than Court Hussar, a blocker that also allows you to dig for what you need. Novijen Sages and Cytoplast Root-kin give you beaters while also giving you options. Flash Foliage has a hundred and one uses. Pure / Simple is often a limited Vindicate or a powerful sweeper. Even if you only destroy one card off the Simple side, it still feels like a victory.

The new split cards may help this feeling of versatility. Crime / Punishment, Bound / Determined and Supply / Demand are amazing tools for decks like mine, especially Supply / Demand. Supply / Demand is an essential card for any Five Color highlander deck.

Indrik Stomphowler gives you a creature that seriously affects the game, unlike Uktabi Orangutan. In addition to that, it also takes out either an enchantment or an artifact, also unlike the Orangutan as well. Do you see how this is an additional element of versatility on two fronts? Both “combat” and “usefulness of ability” are enhanced by the Stomphowler, and that’s just one card in the set.

This is why I am officially declaring Dissension the Best Set in the Block for Multiplayer and Casual Alike. That’s BSBMCA for short.

I’m almost at 2,500 words and that’s where my editors like it for weekly authors. Therefore, I will leave you folks now and wave goodbye. In the meantime, if you haven’t thought about a highlander deck in a while, do so. And use Dissension when building it heavily. Otherwise, take a look at some of these great cards and fit them into your decks, because you’ll love them.

I know I do.

Until Later,
Abe Sargent