The Limited Lessons of Dissension

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Craig “Prof” Jones recently placed 2nd at Pro Tour Honolulu. At his local Dissension prerelease, he went one better! In a bonus article for our Premium readers, he shares the lessons learnt from rockin’ out with the Rakdos crew. Sound advice for those of us trying to improve our forty-card game, coupled with Craig’s usual dose of good-natured humor.

In which our hero gets to inflict some righteous heavy metal mayhem Rakdos style, and imparts a few helpful tips on how to extract someone’s brain through the nasal cavity with the help of a few common-or-garden kitchen utensils…

Hmm, so who do I need to kill?

After emailing our esteemed editor to see what was required in terms of articles, I was given this reply.

“Articles… We’re sorted for full set reviews, I think. It’s rubbish having too many, as the issues become clouded. As for Prerelease articles… some Sealed Deck builds would be nice, but not with Prerelease pools. With actual tournament-style pools would be better.”

So, dead man’s shoes it is. That’s okay. Accidents happen all the time. In fact, I think the Special Weapons Division of the University of Manchester might just have that special something…

But I digress. So what is this article going to be about exactly? Well, there will be a Sealed deck (and even a bonus draft), but I won’t go into too much detail about how I built it. As Craig S is correct to point out, prerelease pools don’t represent the typical card pools most players see at tournaments. Instead, I’ll be looking at that other important aspect of Sealed deck — actually playing the cards.

One of my pet groans about UK Magic is that we are just terrible. Sorry, I know bashing one’s country is so frightfully uncouth and all that, but it’s the simple truth. If you have any doubts, I’ll give you this shocker I witnessed at the Ravnica prerelease last year.

It’s round 3 (or 4) and my friend Pete Norris is in real trouble. In the deciding game he’s facing down a Gleancrawler, Woebringer Demon, Thoughtpicker Witch, and another creature (possibly a Shambling Shell).

If you don’t understand why that’s bad, you need to go and read what each of those cards do.

If you’re thinking, “Okay, so that’s bad,” then you need to go and reread the cards again and think very carefully about what happens when you’re sitting across from all three of them in play at the same time.

It’s more than bad. It’s like being kicked in the balls hard enough to have them pop out of your mouth, and then having the other person play conkers with them while they’re still dangling.

And yet. Yes, and yet. And yet I come back later to see both the Witch and Demon in the graveyard, and the Gleancrawler about to join them after attacking into an on-board gang block. Pete had no answers in hand, no advantage on board, and yet his opponent still managed to throw away one of the most dominant board positions I’ve ever seen in the space of a couple of turns.

In this situation the player didn’t realize the advantage he had. While it might seem hard to rein in a 6/6 trampler, all he needed to do was sit back and use the Witch to control Pete’s draw (and ultimately deck him) while the one-sided Abyss took down Pete’s forces. Instead he made some bad sacrifices, utilized his mana incorrectly, and then panicked and attacked with the Gleancrawler when he shouldn’t. He didn’t recognize the strategy he needed to pursue.

So what’s the problem, you might say? If the standard of play, is that bad then winning the tournament is so much easier. Why make other people better?

My answer is that it depends on which tournament you want to win. Beating the same people at FNM is not going to teach you anything. If anything it’s going to make your game worse, as errors and sloppiness creep into your game because you can get away with it at that level. If a player is serious about doing well, then paradoxically it’s in his best interests to raise the standard of the players around him.

One of my initial ideas for articles was to highlight and ridicule these mistakes as I encountered them. Shame ‘em into being better, so to speak. Fortunately, I’m too nice for that.

Nice. Nice! String them up by their entrails and flay them with vinegar-dripped whips!

Anyway, let’s have a look at some of the new Dissension cards in the field.

Before we continue, I feel duty bound to point out that I do not class myself as a good Limited player, and that a lot of what I’m going to talk about might seem blindingly obvious to some. I should also point out that my definition of “good” is relative.

At the prerelease, a lot of comments went something like:

“You did well at Honolulu, right?”

“Yeah, but I wouldn’t worry too much. I’m not very good at Limited.”

Then I proceeded to crush them.

It’s all relative. In a local field, I’m the big fish. At the Pro Tour, I’m chum.

I’ll probably still do a report for Prague, but my prediction is that it will be around thirteen rounds shorter than Honolulu.

Okay, so then with that in mind let’s grab a train and finally head off to sunny Bradford for the Dissension prerelease. I love prereleases anyway, but this one was of special importance. Pro Tour Prague is coming up, and one of the more interesting features is that it will include Dissension before the new set is actually released. That means if you want to practice for Prague then the only way to get boosters is to win them at the Prerelease (We did have an alternate plan of beating the prizes out of small children as they left the room, but that was vetoed on the grounds that they’d probably already ripped them open).

I like the Bradford Prerelease, as it guarantees a box for first prize. I know prereleases are meant to be fun and all that, but I like to be playing for something in a tournament. I like Bradford even more because it is well run, and there is a much greater chance that I’ll actually be playing against real Sealed decks rather than something that has been “augmented” by a few extra cards here and there (to give it an extra punch, you know). Bradford actually used Deck Registration forms to register the card pools, and ran a deck swap. I realize some of you might be throwing your arms up in horror. Deck Registration forms at a prerelease? It’s a fun tournament!

True, but it isn’t much fun when you get crushed by something that looks suspiciously homebuilt. It isn’t much fun for the guy who legitimately gets the broken pool and then has a bunch of people muttering over whether he was cheating or not after the tournament. These poisonous clouds of suspicion are very easy to dispel. Just break out the Deck Registration forms and hey presto; the tournament is fun again (and maybe fewer players will pick up senseless game losses for deck registration errors at bigger tournaments, which is also a good thing).

The only downside to the deck swap is when you open a foil dual land and have to give it away… but I’ll leave it to our editor to tell his sorry side of that tale. [Sorry, I’m still repressing that memory. — Craig, distraught.]

Without further ado, here is the card pool I ended up with. I was tempted to leave this whole bit out (and save myself the typing), but I know some people like to look at these and come up with their own builds. If you’re more interested in the play tips, then just scroll straight past:

Dissension Prerelease Pool
Craig Jones
Test deck on 04-30-2006
Ravnica Limited

We’ve got the usual Ravnica nightmare. A Sealed deck that pulls us in many different directions. This one had me scratching my head for a while. Blue, Green, and White give me fliers, including the new Morphling (although he personally seems like a shabby imitation to me), but I have really good removal in Black and Red, including two pingers. Oh well, if in doubt go with the removal.

Moving swiftly on, as this deck building exercise is probably moot as the prerelease weekend has passed, I ended up with this:

Although this is the final build, it did go through some earlier iterations. Prereleases are a good place to experiment, and the opportunity should be taken. The original version didn’t have the Green splash, and relied on some filler such as Sadistic Augermage and Centaur Safeguard. I didn’t have the Beacon Hawk either, more on that guy later. I would have much rather splashed Blue to fully utilize the Guildmage, but I think the lands and Signets dictate the colors more than anything. Had the Temple Garden been a Watery Grave I would have probably played the Windreaver instead of the Evangel. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure what the optimal build is. I don’t think this is strong, but it’s not as bad as I first thought.

Enough of the deck construction, let’s go onto what I learned. This will be on a round by round basis, with individual cards highlighted. I’ll also leave off the names, not to save them any blushes or anything, but mainly because I didn’t think I’d be writing anything on this and didn’t take them down.

The General Format

This might be more suited to the end, but I’m going to put it here by way of introduction. My general impression was that the depth of commons seemed much lower than in Ravnica and Guildpact. I suspect this might be because I had a fairly weak pool. Other players I mentioned it to immediately responded with, “What about this flier and that flier?” There are a lot of very aggressively costed fliers. Rakdos also has a lot of removal, but there feels like a lot of cards that are simply average.

Of course, one of my biggest weaknesses for Limited is I have a complete blind spot for average. For a long time I would refuse to draft 2/3s for four mana, or 3/3s for 5 mana, forgetting sometimes you need those guys to fill out a deck. So you might want to take my initial impressions of depth with a pinch of salt.

Far more specific, and hence possibly not of much use outside prereleases, is how the decks shaped up over the day. Players played either Red-White-Black or Blue-Green-White. RWB had plenty of removal and unexciting guys, while the UGW decks had lots of cool guys but couldn’t kill a thing.

Round 1

This was against a RWB deck.

Nettling Curse

One of the important rules about Limited is to play cards that impact the game. My first round opponent had two Nettling Curse, and they felt extremely rubbish. In the first case one was put on a Centaur Safeguard, and it just gave me a two-for-one when I traded with a Guardian of the Guildpact. The second was put on an Ickspitter. At the time I was ahead enough to happily attack, and then the Ickspitter shot itself when it became an issue.

Think carefully about what cards do before including them. In the abstract this might seem like a win condition. If a creature attacks they take damage. It can even force the creature to attack. Force it to attack seven times and you win.

However, this is bad thinking. If the creature is attacking, you are going to be taking damage as well. At some point you are probably going to have to block it and kill it. Even in the ideal situation where you have a high toughness wall that can block without killing it, or the opponent is on low enough life that you can win the race by taking the damage, there are plenty of sac effects available to solve the problem. Rakdos has plenty of cards that kill things dead, and you should be playing them over this. If you don’t have those cards, then you should probably be playing with other colors.

Add Lighning Helix for extra crispiness

Beacon Hawk

I had two of these guys, and originally they were left in the board. I’m not overly excited about 1/1 fliers for the impact reasons mentioned above. After having them played against me, I decided they might be worth a second look. The Hawk has a couple of useful functions. On offense he can sneak through and allow you do foolish stuff with Ickspitters and Evangels (an Evangel can get out of control very quickly). In the mid to late game, where a 1/1 flier is often outclassed by better fliers, he still serves a function as he blocks just about anything (with enough Plains) and lives to tell the tale. It’s not a card I’m overly excited about, but one I probably overlooked when I first constructed my deck. In the later rounds I moved one in to try it out, and he seemed okay.

Macabre Waltz

This feels like a very good restocking card once you hit the mid-game. Trade this and an excess land for the two best creatures in your graveyard. I only ran one in the main, as sometimes Limited games end up in big creature stalls and you never really want to draw this when there are no creatures in a graveyard.

However, when you’re playing another deck with a heavy Rakdos element, there’s a very good chance that creatures are going to falling like ninepins. Because of this I boarded in the extra one. Of course, I kept drawing them after making a land I didn’t need to. D’oh!

Tick tock tick tock

The Clock

This obviously isn’t a card, but something any decent player needs to be aware of. Time is especially important for prereleases, as games tend to be a lot slower as players are unfamiliar with the cards. I got timed out in the first round when, barring a good topdeck from my opponent, I probably had the game in a couple more turns. Yes, I could moan I got 1 point when it should be 3, and I could probably moan my opponent played too slowly, but the simple truth was I was as much to blame. I faffed around at the start sleeving my deck, and didn’t play the first game with any urgency.

I might try and chivy someone along at a PTQ (although it’s usually me that needs the chivying — age setting in and all that), doing the same at a Prerelease isn’t very sporting and makes you look like a jerk. It’s a fun tournament. Players aren’t familiar with the cards, and to compensate some are going to take longer on their decisions. If you think this could be a problem, then take less time over your own decisions. I was kicking myself for this one, as I knew it was my own fault for fannying around.

The final note from Round 1: Dread Slag is a very good card to draw off the top of your deck with no cards in hand.

Round 2

Okay, so I wasn’t too happy with that draw. It was only a six round tournament, and with 50-odd competitors I might now have to rely on other results if I wanted to grab those boosters.

As a result I played round 2 like a hurricane — well, a slightly slow, aged one. It wasn’t too hard as my opponent had spread his colors too thin, and he got battered in swift succession because of mana problems.

Stalking Vengeance

Not quite the bomb I hoped for. He did the job this round, but just about anything would have. He’s a big and hasty 5/5, but he costs seven mana. The ability to deal damage equal to a creature’s power when that creature hits the graveyard sounds brutal, but was harder to pull off in practice. With a sacrifice outlet it’s probably much better, but most of the time he occasionally caught people off guard when an Ordruun Commando. Rather irritatingly, a lot of my creatures got axed by –X/-X effects that meant they often went to the graveyard with a mighty zero power. I probably should have axed this guy from the deck, especially as the quality of removal has gone up, but I’m a sucker for big splashy monsters.

Round 3

Ah, the intimidation factor. Before round 3 and my opponent drops, terrified by my reputation no doubt. Yeah, uh … right.

More likely he’d got a crap pool and wanted to drop to get his name in on a draft. In any case, it gave me a chance to grab some food and wake-up juice, and then torture myself even more by obsessing over whether I had the correct deck. I really wanted to work in Blue to give me access to the Windreaver and make the Guildmage better. But I also had an Evangel I knew was good. Then there was the Zeppelid and the Silkwing Scouts and goddamn, it’s all bent out of shape again.

My suspicion is that Vigean Hydropod is probably not very good, but I was tempted to try and build some kind of flier deck to try it out. I did want to give Supply a go. There wasn’t anything totally bombtastic I could grab with Demand, but I did like the idea of Supply in the late game, especially against the other Rakdos type builds that had solid point removal and were light on creatures. So finally the deck morphed into the listing above. It also cemented me into choosing to go second.

Round 4

Another RWB deck. This one had some very scary rares in the form of Hunted Dragon and two Rakdos Pit Dragon (yes, two!). But also brings me onto my next point.

Don’t tell your opponent anything

Why give them free information? Yes, he might have been lying, but I’m fairly sure he wasn’t. This was after the first game. So of course I brought in the Lurking Informant as my general weapon of choice against bombs. Not a stellar choice, but you make do with what you have. Some would argue that Nightmare Void might also be a valid choice, but I’d left that somewhere down in the belly of “random other cards,” and had completely forgotten about it. Which leads nicely to …

Don’t forget what’s in your card pool

In one of the online leagues Nightmare Void had been a total MVP from the board against a completely grotesque deck that featured Glare of Subdual and three Savage Twister (or so I’d been told afterwards). It had allowed me to even the odds enough that I managed to get the little bit of luck I needed to squeak a win against a much superior deck. I knew this, and yet Nightmare Void went off on a little holiday for this prerelease. Where did he go, nobody knows… I only remembered it was there when I came to write up the card lists.

Hmm, at this point half my audience walks out in disgust. Whoops.

If in doubt, attack

I mulliganed to five in the first game and had a very slow start, but managed to pull the game out. Why, my opponent made a Rakdos Guildmage and didn’t attack with it for a turn, and then missed other attacks later in the game. I see this is a lot. If the board position looks tricky, or if a player stands to lose creatures, then they leave them at home. Don’t do this. It’s only cardboard… send them over the top.

There’s often a lot of worrying about what an opponent might do. What you need to remember is your opponent is also sweating on what you might have. He doesn’t know you’re holding three lands. Chances are most of the time they aren’t going to take the risk in blocking. Remember this and send men in at the first sniff of opportunity. Missing an attack early and then losing the game with your opponent on two life is always annoying.

There’s no need to be excessively fancy

Ah, poor guy. You’re probably getting the impression I’m pillorying him right now, and you wouldn’t be far wrong. Sometimes you need to be cruel to be kind. That’ll scar up nicely, don’t worry about it.

Yep, “fancy play syndrome.” Not good. Sometimes there’s a strong urge to show off. You’ve got three dragons in your deck, so of course you want to slap people silly with them, but don’t overplay it. In this game, where I mulliganed to five and was not attacked when I should have been, my opponent transmuted a Brainspoil for a Hunted Dragon. That’s nice. You get to tutor for a powerful rare. Unfortunately for him I was sitting on a Seal of Doom. He did notice before giving me a wall of first-striking knights, but the Dragon then got stuck in his hand until I forced him to discard it with a Dimir Guildmage.

I made a similar mistake in an online RRG draft. I had a very strong Blue-Red-Black deck with a bucket load of removal. After pulling out a game that looked hopeless by transmuting a Brainspoil into a Ribbons of Night, I tried the same trick in the next round.

What happened? My opponent made Siege Wurm on the next turn…

Jagged Poppet

Very risky…

This guy might have applications for Constructed, but his drawback is a little scary for Limited. Card advantage is very important in Sealed deck, and this guy feels like a sure fire way to lose cards. He entered play on turn 3. On turn 4 I hit him with Ribbons of Night. My opponent then discarded a hand that included Hunted Dragon and Rakdos Pit Dragon.

Best… Ribbons… ever…

Round 5

Now we’re getting into fairly good deck territory. Unfortunately for him, his mana didn’t come out right at all, with a total lack of Blue for his Simic deck. As it included a Leafdrake Roost I had absolutely no way to kill, this was a very good thing for me. Finding no enchantment removal in my sideboard (Nightmare Void was happily windsurfing in the Caribbean at this point), I went for Incite Hysteria. Which, of course, doesn’t work… as he can make a drake as an instant in my declare attackers step. Of course, Incite Hysteria won me the game anyway, by bypassing a Dismisser for the win.

Enemy / Guardian of the Guildpact

The Guardian is fairly annoying, as a lot of removal doesn’t touch it. I also ran the Enemy to start with, but then cut it as it’s not quite as good. I did board it a lot against Simic Decks though, as their best creatures seem to be multi-colored.

Round 6

So my destiny was back in my hands, as I was paired up against the only 5-0 player left in the tournament. Normally I’d play at this point. It’s a prerelease, and I get infinite boosters from GP coverage anyway. However, this was unusual in that I needed the boosters for Prague, and there’s quite a difference between 36 boosters for 1st and 10 boosters for second. I offered the split. He wanted to play. I can understand that philosophy, as prereleases should be all about playing.

He had a fast Simic fliers deck, but it didn’t come out of the blocks quickly in the first game and I proceeded to abuse Beacon Hawk, Evangel, and Ickspitter. After that he decided a split might be better, and conceded to me. We played on another couple of tight games. Simic Guildmage and some moving counter shenanigans took game 2 for him, and we ran out of time for game 3 with me stabilizing on very low life.

Rakdos Ickspitter

I built my deck around two of these guys, and was rewarded for it. Pingers are always good, and pingers that deal damage to an opponent as they wreak havoc amongst their creatures are fantastic. The only thing that you need to remember is that they aren’t pingers in the truest sense of the word, as they don’t shoot players directly. When your opponent doesn’t have a creature out, don’t be afraid to send these guys into the red zone.

I won the prerelease in odd fashion. I got a first round draw, got paired down, got paired down and then a bye when my opponent dropped, got paired down, finally had a fair pairing, and then got a concession in final round after going 1-0 up.

But this isn’t quite the end of the day, oh no. Not yet. There’s far more fun, games, and eyeballs on a cocktail stick to be had. We still have the …

… Bonus Draft

Another feature of prereleases is the triple new set draft. I don’t normally bother with these but…

[Look, we know you’re qualified for Prague! So shut up about it already! — Craig, jealous.]

Ulp… yes, boss.

Basically, I just want to show this baby off. This is a real draft deck. I did draft it, and yes there were seven other players on the table who weren’t seven-year-old girls.

Yep, that’s one sick puppy. Some interesting facts:

My first pick was Assault Zeppelin.
I was passed the Demonfire.
The two players on either side of me were also Rakdos.
I grabbed a couple of Spell Snare in the basement pick. It’s probably going to be a chase uncommon, right?

Rakdos and Hellbent

Rakdos is the heavy metal guild, as far as I can see. I can understand that ethos. Blood, metal, parties, savage ultra-violence, and the total and utter annihilation of everything. Like a Slayer gig, then.



Hmm, sorry. Got a little carried away there.

What, you want to know how the deck did? How do you think. Take one puppy, preferably one of those nauseating Labradors Dean Koontz is overly fond of, one industrial size paper shredder and … well you get the picture.

What do we make of our favorite party-animal guild… It has a bucket load of removal for starters. Seal of Fire, Seal of Doom, Wrecking Ball, Cackling Flames, and Rakdos Ickspitter are all common and all solid picks. You’ll also note there’s been no mention of Hellbent so far.

At the moment, one of the stronger draft archetypes in Rav-Rav-Gui is Blue-Black-Red. The initial thought was that Dissension would close off this guild triangle. Then I saw Hellbent and my initial thought was replaced by another initial thought. UBR would lose power. No way does that deck ever want to get to zero cards in hand.


After seeing the set, I can safely say I’m wrong on that. UBR is going to be a monster. Expect it to be one of the forced archetypes at Prague. Who cares about Hellbent? The Dimir-Izzet-Rakdos combo is going to be a nightmare that makes things dead, draws some more cards so it has more things that make things dead than there are actually things to make dead, before finally beating an opponent to death with a Mindleech Mass that was floating around sixth pick. Okay, so Cackling Flames has Hellbent, but the three damage version will be adequate for most needs.

A lot of players seemed to think Rakdos had to be aggressive in getting rid of its hand. This was like the myth that Boros could only be successful if it was uber-fast and packed with the worst dorks imaginable. And just as playing Boros Recruit is terrible (trust me on this one, okay), then so too is throwing away a hand to be Hellbent. The theme they’re trying to push of Rakdos is this amazingly self-destructive guild that gets better when it throws its hand away. Instead, you should regard the theme of Rakdos as being the guild that gives you all those nice removal spells to go with your Compulsive Researches or Siege Wurms.

What I really want to talk about, though, is the first round of the draft, a Rakdos mirror, and what a difference tactics and strategy can make.

First off, I’m always going to draw with this deck. Why? Well, I’m removal heavy, and in the majority of cases my removal is going to be cheaper than their monsters. Tempo doesn’t scare me, and I want the extra card.

I’m also playing a Rakdos mirror. How will these games go? In all likelihood, they are going to be brutal. Creatures aren’t going to hang around very long, and the game will probably be won by the player with the last monster standing. Most of the removal trades one-for-one, and so card advantage is going to be absolutely priceless. It’s fairly simple… if you have more cards than your opponent, then you’re much more likely to be the player with the last monster standing.

My opponent didn’t realize this, and played cards that enabled me to win this war. Taste for Mayhem on a Flaring Flame-Kin is fairly spicy, but it just gives me an opportunity to go a card up. Aura’s on your own creatures is a definite no-no.

With all the removal in my deck, spectators were very surprised when Lyzolda hung around for a couple of turns. There was good reason. I wasn’t about to kill it with two mana open, as the result would be me losing a removal spell and a creature, and he’d just get to replace Lyzolda with a card from the top of his deck in any case. When he tapped out, then the removal flew in.

Ghost Quarter

As a brief aside, the reason he tapped out was to use Ghost Quarter to kill a Canarium. This might look tempting, but isn’t a good idea. By killing the Karoo I’m put back a turn, but so are you, and you’ve also reduced the chances I’ll draw an unneeded basic land in the mid-to-late game. For Sunhomes and their ilk, the Quarter is an answer if you’ve nothing else, but I’m not sure it really achieves anything on a Karoo land.

The player also reinforced my belief that he didn’t understand the matchup when he told me he’d left Dread Slag in the sideboard. He thought it wouldn’t be quick enough.

But, as we’ve already deduced, this match is not about speed. It’s about card advantage and the last monster standing. We are probably both going to go to zero cards at some point, and at that point Dread Slag is a substantial threat. I only have one Wrecking Ball to get rid of it, and I’m not going to get a lot of time to draw it.

So there we are. In summary, it really pays to know how a match is likely to proceed, and to adjust your strategy accordingly. Although the formats are not likely to relevant in the future I hope the examples I’ve raised are of general use.

That’s enough from me for the moment. I’m off to wire a puppy up to the mains.

Until next time.

Craig Jones