The Weekly Guild Build: No Sleep ‘Til Cleveland

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StarCityGames.com!The drive back from the prerelease in Livonia, Michigan to my home in Rocky River, Ohio takes 2.5 hours…. Unless I’m so tired that I make three mistakes in driving home, at which point it takes four hours. And in that sleepy, error-prone haze, hopping on my keyboard to write my usual Monday essay on Dissension is not a wise choice, which is why today’s offering is a day late. But that said… What things did I learn at the Prerelease?

The drive back from the prerelease in Livonia, Michigan to my home in Rocky River, Ohio takes 2.5 hours…. Unless I’m so tired that I get on I-96 going the wrong way, which takes me twenty miles away from my starting point before I boomerang back. Then it’s three hours.

Or unless I’m so muddled that instead of taking the fork off onto I-90, I stay on I-80 and wind up on the other side of south Cleveland instead of shooting through directly into my home town. Then it’s three hours and thirty minutes.

Or unless, after I’ve gone on two wrong freeways, I get on I-90 going the wrong way once again, heading into the tangled maze of downtown Cleveland before finally managing to extricate myself from the clutch of cross-streets.

Final total for the drive: four hours, ten minutes. And when I walked through the door at 10:10 p.m., it was time for me to pound out a quickie article on my first impressions of Dissension so that I could get it up before my Monday deadline of midnight….

Um… Yeah. I’d been so punked out from attending the weekend-long convention of Penguicon that I could not choose the correct exit from a choice of two. An exit, may I remind you, that I had gotten off of at least seventy times.

And I was going to debate Limited cards in that condition? Next up: Ferrett smokes crack and discusses physics problems!

In any case, I have a slightly clearer head now, so this week I’ll just share my rough impressions of a Dissension prerelease in no particular order. I’m still tired; I just don’t have the brainpower to put it together into a cool order yet.

The Simic
You could not throw a rock without hitting a +1/+1 counter at the prerelease. At one point I went to the land table, and it was completely denuded of Forests. There was half a pile of Swamps, a slightly bigger pile of Plains, a thin slice of Islands and a huge sweeping stack of Mountains… But Green was dominating this PR like you wouldn’t believe.

I myself had forgotten my tokens, so I was ripping off pieces of notebook paper; soon, my table looked like a parade had marched past. Others were using pennies, but soon ran out of pennies and had to go to quarters, dimes, and nickels. And as they piled coins upon the table, I remembered the Kinks’ immortal lyric:

Eyes down, round and round
Let’s all sit and watch the money go ‘round
Everyone take a little bit here and a little bit there

Whoah. I feel like Sean McKeown now. Or a really old Tim Aten.

But why wouldn’t everyone be playing the Simic? The Simic are not only the coolest new guild, but they’re one of the best for Sealed play. They’re full of Green beef and cheap critters, and the “give a critter an ability” tricks make the Simic flexible. Beef With Tricks = a decent backbone for a lot of decks.

Plus, the “move a +1/+1 counter when another creature comes into play” gives you some neat choices, particularly when paired with instant-speed creature effects. Is your opponent destroying some nasty Simic critter of yours? One Scatter the Seeds in response will take those +1/+1 counters and put them where they’re needed.

It’s a strangely skill-testing play, just like Dredging is. Do you Dredge now, or do you hope your next card is the bomb? Do you Graft that counter now, weakening your main guy, in the hopes of spreading the love? I like choices like that.

The Azorius
I really didn’t think I’d like them, but as it turned out I did — even though I was playing against them all day. The Forecast mechanic is powerful, being a reusable effect that can’t be destroyed…. And it looked gigantic on paper. In practice, however, the “only at the beginning of your upkeep” clause put the Azorius mechanic right where it should be: distracting your opponent to prep for an Alpha strike.

Think about it: yeah, you can tap a creature, or gain life when one of your dudes does damage — but there’s zero surprise value, and it has to happen during your attack phase. You can’t lock someone down with forecast effects — all you can do is to send their defenders elsewhere in order to punch through with whatever offense you have ready. That’s way in flavor.

Furthermore, you get to decide whether to pay the mana before you draw a card — which can be a real pain in the butt in the middle stages of the game, when proper use of your mana is critical. More than once I saw someone do a two-mana Forecast with six mana open, and then they drew that five-mana card that would have saved their butts. Ouch.

The Rakdos
I played a sum total of one game against the Rakdos, but I can’t say I’m terribly impressed. The Rakdos have a lot of destruction, which is always good, but Sealed play isn’t consistent enough to rely on the Hellbent mechanic. Dropping all of your cards to get a marginal bonus and then enter topdeck phase? Um, not so good.

…I don’t think. Remember, I’m sleepy. And there was, to be fair, a Hellbent-centered deck at the top table in the final round, but this was also in a format with three packs of Dissension.

I can see Rakdos stuff being useful for topdecks in the late game, but almost none of the Hellbent effects are so powerful that they’re purposely worth going to zero for. Okay, destroying two creatures can be very cool…. But what happens if your opponent has other creatures? Or simply outdraws you after you’re both in topdeck mode?

Then again, I am admittedly looking at it wrong. Like Dredge or Graft, it’s not like we’re ever going to see a purely Hellbent-specific deck in Sealed (or even Draft). But though the cards are powerful in conjunction with other cards, I’m not sure what the Rakdos brings to the table other than a boatload of removal.

Watch the Skies
I lost — kind of — in the first round to a deck that was, by the player’s own admission, not that good. His friend arrived immediately after he won, and they both did a little dance at being 1-0.

“My deck sucks, too,” his friend said. “But I just kept casting fliers until he died.”

That was, ironically, how I died. But with the addition of two guilds that center largely around flying creatures, it seemed the airspaces were a lot more choked than usual. It could be the triple-Dissension, of course, but I suspect “having flier defense” will be something good players want to consider when building their decks in the future. And speaking of which….

Aquastrand Spider
I loved this guy. I mean, I’m a big fan of Grizzly Bears to begin with, but he’s flexible and he was so subtle that I kept seeing players forget about him. I suspect this is a mistake they won’t make in the future, but there were a lot of people walking into my +1/+1 counter traps.

He’s efficient, with a nice side effect. I think he may become a staple in future Sealed builds.

Assault Zeppelid
This guy, on the other hand, I hated because I did not open him. In a guild that’s rife with counter-shifters, he was bashing face in pretty much any game I watched. A turn 4 Assault Zeppelid — or, worse yet, turn 3 with a Signet – is a play I have a feeling I’ll be vaguely irritated by a fair amount over the coming months.

Beacon Hawk
I really, really wanted to play this guy, especially since I had a Selesnya Evangel in my Sealed deck…. But in the end, I had to make a final cut, and he got axed. It seems like he could do some neat things with tapping effects, but that does involve getting a fragile body through what may be a sturdy defense, and then he’s a heavily conditional, easily-foreseeable trick.

Maybe he worked for you. Lemme know.

Bond of Agony
I thought this could be an interesting finisher in a Hellbent deck, until I read the FAQ. Then I realized that while you paid the life to pay the spell, your opponent doesn’t lose the life until the spell resolves. Which means that if you’re both at three and you cast this for three, you lose. Or if you Bond down to two and your opponent Shocks you in response, you lose.

Not so much with the good, really.

Coiling Oracle
I did not play this guy. I did not play against this guy. But the guy next to me played him and crowed, “Coiling Oracle is so good!” and the people around me nodded their heads sagely.

I shall have to investigate.

Cytoplast Root-Kin
On the other hand, I did play with this card… Or, actually, I didn’t. I kept waiting for The Perfect Opportunity to use him, setting up the board for a time when his “Give a +1/+1 counter to all critters with +1/+1 counters on them” would swing the game mightily!

Two lost games later, it occurred to me that a turn 4 4/4 was good enough by itself. I cast him and swung, counting the counter shenanigans as a nice bonus if I could get them. I was much happier after that; my opponents were not.

This is the most flavorful card I’ve seen in, like, forever.

Freewind Equenaut
I did not look at this as “a useful target for enchantments.” I looked at it as “a vanilla 2/2 flier for a paltry three mana.” And lo, it was decent.

Helium Squirter
At the prerelease, we were all getting high on helium. It’s a tad pricey, but the flexibility can really help you out later in the game, and assaulting with everything in the air doesn’t hurt.

Minister of Impediments
If I have to tell you tap effects can be decent in a Sealed format, you evidently haven’t been playing for long. In which case, I am an amazing font of wisdom to you. I will simply say that it is small, but can be supremely annoying.

Go forth, grasshopper. Learn other formats.

Blow. Your. Mind.

Ocular Halo
This was another “I saw it everywhere card,” and very few people seemed to regret playing it. I’m a little worried about its four-mana casting cost, which most likely makes it ludicrously expensive in Draft, but four mana in Sealed is doable under a lot of circumstances.

The Vigilance effect is, well, a Vigilance effect. But the “tap to draw a card” is the gravy, natch.

Um…. Do I need to tell you folks that this can be one hell of a useful combat trick even if you can’t play the Green? And if you do have the green, Blue hardly ever gets bears anyway, so zipping this into the middle of a tense combat and having him block is quite nice.

Of course, that’s not likely to happen. Most of the good effects are going to be declared after you’ve declared blockers, and you want to use this in response to a spell, which makes this highly unlikely to pull off the double-Jeopardy keelhauling of “fizzle your effect, kill your guy with this spanking-fresh 2/2, go.”

Still, as a decent trick, I’d be putting this guy into almost any Blue Sealed build as a matter of course. The Green makes it a total gimme. For me, anyway.

Plumes of Peace
The “tap a guy” effect was way more useful than the enchantment itself, usually. I had this played on me three times as a spell, and two times the opponent later wound up regretting it. We’ll see how that pans out in further practice, though.

Rakdos Ickspitter
I hesitate to state the obvious, but there were a few kids who hadn’t picked up on it; if you have a Spitter and no creatures it can kill, zap them anyway and make your opponent lose life.

It’s embarrassing to say this in public, but someone might not know.

Research / Development
This was the only split card I encountered in the course of the day, and I only had it played against me once. Still, the Development side pounded me so hard that somewhere, Nancy Kerrigan began wailing in mock pain. These cards are Bunker Buster bombs.

Silkwing Scout
Every bit as annoying as it looked in print. A little tricky to leave the green open, but it’s about average cost for a Blue flier anyway so who cares if you have to burn up mana elsewhere?

Skullmead Cauldron
Thank your lucky stars this won’t happen to you, but at the prerelease I saw a guy facing down two of these suckers in play. The guy pulled out a win eventually, of course — raw life gain is not enough to carry you to victory — but it sure took him fifteen turns longer than it should have to punch through.

Swift Silence
Hmmm. If only there was some sort of overused block mechanic that rewarded you for putting multiple spells onto the stack! This spell would almost certainly kill that mechanic dead, if it didn’t cost five dang mana.

That said, even with that it might still get played. Maybe.

Home on the Strange
Damn, I wish I had a great plug to give to my strip this week…. But I don’t. It’s a shame, too, since not only did I attend a convention this weekend where I plugged the hell out of my strip, but everyone reads post-Prerelease articles, meaning that it’s possible that I could send thousands of you flooding over to the amazing Webcomic that I write. If I had a week where I want to have the funniest story we’ve ever had, this would be it.

Alas, my co-creator and artist is on her honeymoon this week, so what we have are brief sketches of Tom and Karla, the two main characters, getting married. What a lost opportunity!

Yet still. If you haven’t read Home on the Strange, why not take a stroll through our archives and catch up on a strip about nerds, love, and nerd interactions?

Signing off,
The Ferrett
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The Here Edits This Here Site Guy