The Many Faces of Dimir, Part One

Julien takes us through the ins-and-outs of drafting the Dimir strategy in its many incarnations. Card evaluation, tips and tricks, pitfalls and problems discussed, by one of the hottest talents in the game today. Everything the Blue/Black mage needs for victory. Need I say more?

Hey all!

Today I’ll discuss two archetypes, both of which are fine in a triple-Ravnica draft: Dimir Beatdown and Dimir Control. I want my article to be comprehensive as we’ve drafted this format for a while now, and I want to ensure I was giving everyone some new information. Today I’ll show you my view on what cards are good in which type of Dimir-deck, and why. Tomorrow I’ll talk about what a Dimir deck should usually consist of, a summary of how to successfully complete the draft process, and the rares.

Spiders from Mars

As we all know by now, when you’re drafting this guild you can go in one of two ways: toward an orthodox Beatdown deck (a normal draft deck), or toward the “Millstone” strategy. There are many Blue and Black cards that are playable in these two decks, but a large part of them are only good in one of the two strategies. You can’t mix the two decks up as their game-plan is contradictory, and your deck would be entirely anti-synergistic.

In order to prevent this from happening, you can change your card evaluation for the start of the draft by rating the cards that are good in both decks highly, taking them over cards that move your draft towards either extreme of the Guild. To understand which cards are good in a particular deck strategy, and which are good in either, make a list that shows the direction of the “archetype leanings” each card displays.

As always, I encourage you to evaluate the quality of the cards yourself and base it your own experiences. It’s likely that you are a different type of player than I am, or that you’re playing in a different kind of environment. For example, a weekly draft at your local gaming store will differ severely from a PTQ Top 8 draft, especially when it comes to the evaluation of the deck archetypes, and therefore the numbers in which the archetype is drafted. I’ll present my list (not including rares) and discuss my choices, to give you an idea of what I mean, and hopefully provide some new insights.

I’ve graded the cards below on a scale of one to five, with “one” representing a purely Beatdown card, “five” representing pure Control, and the middle numbers acting as gradients between the extremes.

Note, this grading system doesn’t establish a pick-order; rather, it simply places the cards in a certain “camp” of play-style.

Level 1: Purely Beatdown
Necromantic Thirst
Carrion Howler
Glass Golem
Halcyon Glaze
Undercity Shade
Netherborn Phalanx
Sadistic Augermage
Snapping Drake
Grifter’s Blade
Gaze of the Gorgon
Voyager Staff

Level 2: Mostly Beatdown
Roofstalker Wight
Golgari Guildmage
Clutch of the Undercity
Peel from Reality
Dimir Signet
Vedalken Dismisser
Flight of Fancy

Level Three: Either / Or
Dimir House Guard
Mausoleum Turnkey
Belltower Sphinx
Tattered Drake
Telling Time
Clinging Darkness
Last Gasp
Stasis Cell
Keening Banshee
Ribbons of Night
Compulsive Research
Spectral Searchlight
Mark of Eviction
Surveilling Sprite
Thoughtpicker Witch

Level Four: Mostly Control
Dimir Guildmage
Lurking Informant
Consult the Necrosages
Dimir Aqueduct
Flow of Ideas
Strands of Undeath
Twisted Justice
Dimir Infiltrator
Drift of Phantasms
Stinkweed Imp
Off-color Duals
Off-Color Signets
Vigor Mortis

Level Five: Purely Control
Lore Broker
Wizened Snitches
Induce Paranoia
Duskmantle, House of Shadow
Psychic Drain
Vedalken Entrancer
Tidewater Minion

I’ll now divide the cards into several groups, sorted by the function they fulfill in a deck. Note that some cards may be included in more than one group. A good example is Ribbons of Night, functioning as both card advantage and removal.

Group 1: Attackers
(Halcyon Glaze, Snapping Drake, Moroii, Dimir House Guard, Dimir Guildmage, Mausoleum Turnkey, Belltower Sphinx, Tattered Drake, Carrion Howler, Glass Golem, Undercity Shade, Mortipede, Netherborn Phalanx, Sadistic Augermage, Sewerdreg, Roofstalker Wight, Golgari Guildmage, Terraformer)

The Aggro deck needs these essential beaters. Most are not as strong in the Control deck, as they are pretty weak defenders. Apart from the creatures that are obviously good, or have other purposes, I’m usually quite unhappy having guys like these in a Control deck. I like Moroii more than most people in the Control deck, though; sometimes it can just win you the game on its own. If you’re playing against Boros, you should almost always side it out. Most likely, they will have access to either Thundersong Trumpeter or Faith’s Fetters, both great solutions to Moroii.

As you can see, there aren’t that many good evasive attackers available for the Aggro deck. When you’re drafting it, try to pick them up early. Tattered Drake is usually quite a late pick though, and you probably don’t like it in the Aggro deck as much as I do… but it’s been great for me. It’s very hard to kill, which makes it an efficient beater. Knowing that there aren’t too many efficient flying creatures around makes the smaller versions more important: Dimir Infiltrator, Surveilling Sprite and others are essential early drops.

Group 2: Defenders
(Dimir Infiltrator, Drift of Phantasms, Stinkweed Imp, Junktroller, Tidewater Minion, Belltower Sphinx, Tattered Drake, Wizened Snitches, Vedalken Entrancer)

They shine in the Control deck, but many of these I also like in the Aggro deck. Your game plan does not only require you to play some flyers; you also have to prevent getting killed in the process. I love Tattered Drake. It’s not the fastest of creatures, but it’s always good when you play it, whether you are attacking, defending, doing both (racing) or doing neither (creature stall). Wizened Snitches is fantastic in a Control deck when combined with Vedalken Entrancer, Duskmantle or Lurking Informant; it helps you immensely, ensuring your opponent gets mana-flooded after you’ve stabilized from the first rush of creatures and your opponent is out of gas. Junktroller doesn’t fit in the average version of the Aggro deck. Sometimes, though, you have some good removal spells and a lot of cards that Transmute for them, but few attacking creatures. In such decks, you’ll often find that the games take a while. In these games it’s great to be able to put your used removal on the bottom of your library and Transmute for them again.

Group 3: Removal
(Brainspoil, Clinging Darkness, Disembowel, Last Gasp, Stasis Cell, Keening Banshee, Ribbons of Night, Darkblast, Twisted Justice)

Clingfilm Darkness

The essential removal spells are great in both decks; sometimes the Control deck needs a little more removal than the Aggro deck, as Aggro can play cards with a similar effect. (cards that give you tempo-advantage). Vedalken Dismisser, Peel from Reality and Clutch of the Undercity are all cards that can perform a similar function when you’re in a tight race. Some people may disagree, but I think Clinging Darkness is great in both decks. The Control deck won’t attack into the leftover creature anyway, and the beatdown deck will just fly over it. Twisted Justice is an interesting card, but I don’t really like it; it seems like every deck has enough dorks available for disposal. Selesnya obviously has tokens, as do Golgari decks to a lesser degree… but they also have Stinkweed Imp, Elves of Deep Shadow and Elvish Skysweeper. While it’s never bad to remove Skysweeper in a deck packed with flyers, it’s not what you’re looking for in a six-mana spell. Boros has many smaller creatures but you don’t often have time to cast a six-mana removal against them. Dimir has Drift of Phantasms, Stinkweed Imp, Surveilling Sprite and such, not to mention the anti-synergy it has with your own Clinging Darkness. For me, it’s a fair sideboard card against Golgari at best; but even then I think you have to back it up with some removal spells, and not Clinging Darkness.

Group 4: Card Advantage
(Compulsive Research, Flight of Fancy, Consult the Necrosages, Dimir Aqueduct, Flow of Ideas, Strands of Undeath, Keening Banshee, Ribbons of Night, Golgari Guildmage, Dimir Guildmage, Mausoleum Turnkey, Necromantic Thirst)

Both decks need a way to get more resources, as other decks will usually have some bigger spells that have to trade with more than one of your cards. This is truer for the Control deck than the Aggro deck, as the Aggro deck is more focused on the early game. Most of these spells are not as good early as they are late, and the big spells won’t have come down at that point.

Necromantic Thirst is another way of getting card advantage, and many combos are available via your many evasion creatures. It only works when you attack, which is why I dislike it in Control; you generally have fewer creatures to return, too. I don’t usually maindeck it, but it’s a decent sideboard option against a slower deck that lacks many methods of restraining an evasion creature. I’d maindeck it with a bunch of evasive two-drops, and Dimir House Guard to transmute for the Thirst; or when my deck isn’t able to produce enough card advantage or card quality advantage.

Flight of Fancy is a card that I like to play in the Aggro deck, specifically when my creatures aren’t what I had hoped for (or Helldozers and Dimir Cutpurse). There are many bad creatures that combine greatly with Flight of Fancy. For example, we have Mortipede, Sadistic Augermage and Carrion Howler. However it’s not something to be excited about as you’re playing a mediocre card to make another mediocre card stronger.

Group 5: Card Manipulation
(Lurking Informant, Lore Broker, Wizened Snitches)

Wizened Snitches, as I mentioned earlier, is only good when you combine it with some milling effects, as you’re able to mana-flood your opponent more easily. This is something the Lurking Informant can do on its own; when your opponent is out of gas, this guy can help you immensely in getting that job done. I like the Informant in both decks, but it really shines in the Control deck as it’s easier to nullify your opponent’s cards with the many defenders you have, leaving him with little gas. This is the reason why Lore Broker is better in the Control deck; your opponent will get the time to deplete his hand, and a well-timed discard spell can turn the Broker into a looter with a milling effect. It’s also good early, when you need lands, defenders and supporting spells all in the first few turns to survive; the advantage you get can be larger than what you’re giving your opponent in such situations, as you’ll lose if the early game doesn’t work out for you.

Group 6: Combat Tricks
(Grifter’s Blade, Voyager Staff, Darkblast, Peel from Reality, Gaze of the Gorgon)

Most combat tricks (except for the very cheap ones) are not nearly as good when you’re defending as when you’re attacking, because it’s easier to keep mana open in your attack step than your opponent’s. Peel from Reality and Darkblast are both good in the Control deck, as they have other purposes than only a combat trick: Peel can “counter” a removal spell while gaining some tempo-advantage, and Darkblast kills lots of creatures in the format on its own. I’ve never had a Grifter’s Blade in my deck before, but I’ve heard that it’s pretty good. I imagine this is true: it’s a format with hardly any Equipment.

Group 7: Mill
(Induce Paranoia, Duskmantle, House of Shadow, Psychic Drain, Vedalken Entrancer, Lurking Informant, Lore Broker)

Apart from Lurking Informant, these are obviously only good in the Control deck, but Vedalken Entrancer and Duskmantle could be sideboarded as a late win condition in games which are likely to result in creature stalls. When I’m drafting the Control deck, I tend to pick a reusable milling-effect lower than most people, as I think once you’re in control with the deck and you have a way of getting better or more cards than your opponent, it’ll take a long while anyway, and eventually you’ll draw into your millstone-card. I don’t see killing the opponent often being a problem with the deck; the early game is a lot harder to solve, which is why I usually pick strong defenders over a card like Entrancer… unless it’s already late in the draft and I don’t yet have enough milling-effects.

Group 8: Countermagic
(Remand, Convolute, Perplex, Induce Paranoia)

Counterspells are generally poor in Limited, but sometimes when there’s a Control deck in the format, they can become playable. Counters were great in the previous format’s Dampen Thought-deck, as almost all of your spells were instants and you were going to keep mana open anyway. To a lesser degree, this is true for the Control deck, as you often have multiple activated abilities with a mana cost in play (Tattered Drake, Lurking Informant, etc.)

Remand is the best of these four: it’s the cheapest and therefore easiest to cast, and it’s not useless in the late-game as Convolute usually is. Perplex is only good when you can Transmute into something different. As with Convolute, it’s only good in the first few turns of the game. I like to have one copy of Induce Paranoia in a Control deck; other decks like to have a few late-game spells with high mana costs. Combined with some other milling-effects, this speeds your kill by two or three turns. Also, your opponent has less time to draw his outs, if you’re not in complete control already. I’m very unhappy to run multiple copies, or too many counterspells in general; they disrupt your draw early on as you usually won’t have time to cast them when you’re deploying defenders and drawing cards.

Group 9: Mana Fixers
(Dimir Signet, Dimir Aqueduct, Spectral Searchlight, Off-color Duals, Off-Color Signets, Terrarion, Terraformer)

I rarely splash in any Dimir deck, because there aren’t many cards that contribute to your game plan enough to make the splash worthwhile. This is especially true for the Aggro variant, as you’re focused on the early game and need a consistent draw. The Control deck, more aimed at the late-game, is more likely to splash a few cards if they’re good enough. Keep in mind that a Dimir Signet or Aqueduct gives you the same amount of color-fixing as the Golgari versions to splash Green; a Dimir Signet plus a Forest gives you UBG in three cards, as does Golgari Signet and an Island. There is no reason (apart from transmuting for a Golgari Signet) to pick Golgari Signet over Dimir Signet.

Speaking of the Signets, you usually have a tight curve with many two, three and four-drops. In such cases, you don’t really need the Signet… but pick them higher if they fix your curve (when you have many four-drops and few three-drops). The double-mana lands are the easiest way to get card advantage in every deck, so I like to have one or two, especially when I have Compulsive Research. They aren’t very high picks as you won’t often need the mana-fixing, but if you pick some up later in the draft I’d almost always run them. They help you tremendously in getting back from a mulligan, and allow you to keep opening hands with only two lands. If your deck has too tight a curve, and other ways to gain card advantage (or has an overall high card quality), this could be a reason not to run the lands.

Other Cards
(Vedalken Dismisser, Mark of Eviction, Surveilling Sprite, Thoughtpicker Witch, Vigor Mortis, Clutch of the Undercity)

I try to avoid playing Thoughtpicker Witch or Vigor Mortis, as I think both are only barely acceptable. Surveilling Sprite is a fine card in both decks; it’s never exceptionally good, but it always helps to round out the curve. Clutch of the Undercity is another card with many uses, and if I have something good to Transmute it for, I always like it. Vedalken Dismisser is absolutely great! In the Aggro deck it does exactly what you want: gain tempo advantage, card advantage, and it’s a beater. It’s also fine in the Control deck, as you can remove any creature permanently when you combine this with a milling-effect. Apart from this, it’s a great combo with bounce-cards such as Peel from Reality, and especially Mark of Eviction. Mark of Eviction might look like a very dangerous card to play — because of cards like Fists of Ironwood and Galvanic Arc — but when that doesn’t happen it gives you an enormous advantage. Of course, there are some great combinations available with this card…

That’s it for today, tune in tomorrow for the rest!

Julien Nuijten