Summer in the City: Dissension Design Review
By Stefan Preiml on May 3rd, 2006 · Filed in General Magic · Comments not available just now
Summer in the City
Dissension Design Review
Hey, it's May and Dissension rolled around, finishing off the Ravnica Block as the last of the three sets, featuring three new guilds and a whole lot of new shenanigans of Magic's Research and Development team. After having a lot of fun at both Prereleases in my area, I want to take an in depth look on the set, its design, and almost everything.
I hope you forgive me if I look back on the Guildpact Article and draw some parallels, as the entire block is so closed into itself, that it's hardly possible to make an entirely different article again.
An easy thing to see is that Guildpact and Dissension have a whole lot in common. Both being small expansions in the Ravnica block, which has a lot of interdependence woven into it, means that there are a lot of ten-card cycles. Guildpact had a lot to struggle through in the first place to be viewed as good, as many people didn't attribute features of the set to the set itself, but to the Ravnica set. Things seem to have changed for Dissension, creating a rather new feel and having more features that could be directly attributed to the set, like the split cards.
While Guildpact was more or less unappreciated at first, it was also able to fit right into Standard constructed, and also turn around the entire draft format. We can draw a lot of hope for Dissension from this, with PT Prague as the first test of the full block's draft format. Having played both Prereleases and also drafting a lot using NetDraft in the last week, the set looks really promising and Prague will be an event to watch.
Probably the set's attribute people were most looking forward to was the split card cycle, first introduced in this announcement. This created a lot of talk, especially about the distribution of the set and the split cards themselves. It was quite obvious that the extra 15 cards Dissension has compared to other small sets of recent times wouldn't all be split cards. In the end, we got the distribution most people expected after Inquest previewed Supply // Demand: five "enemy" split cards at rare, and five "allied" ones at uncommon.
As a quick reminder, both sides of the allied splits are color combinations that share a color (in case of red that would be BR/RG), and enemy splits have enemy colored combinations that share a color (UR/RW for red).
And oh boy, the cards are far from disappointing. Split cards are known for the top down design that normally begins with the names that are only two single words that build a well known linguistic pair. The thing that separates the Dissension Split cards from the ones of Invasion Block are the effects. As you can see, the Invasion block splits all had more or less very common effects that builds a nice entity, fitting very well into two colored decks.
Ravnica splits are a bit harder to come by building a deck that can entirely use the split cards, as three colors are needed, but the player is rewarded for that endurance with the effects given, that are more rare and for some even unique in the entire game, making them a sure shot for Johnnies and Spikes to experiment with. But another thing I want to point out on the split cards is that unlike the first set of those, you happily build a deck and use only one half of the split card.
Ravnica block is, compared to all the other Magic blocks, the one that is most closed into itself, yet has the ability to reach out to most of the other blocks and contribute to the entire game quite easily, making a lot of players happy in the process. Although it shares the theme with Invasion Block of five years ago, it was able to create an entirely different feeling. This is based on the fact that Invasion tried to build an environment where a five colored deck could easily exist and be played, while Ravnica has split this into ten smaller tasks, focusing on making color pairs be playable.
However, the compact feeling of Ravnica doesn't come without a price. The Ravnica set alone let the players look into the future and see what was coming for the two following sets, as Ravnica had about fifteen cycles that should span over the entire block, tying all three sets together. Some of these cards are very very close to each other, e.g. the dual lands, smothering some expectations by the player, but not all of it.
I would even say, the Ravnica block is a prime example of emphasizing what high times we live in right now for the game of Magic. The block first had to struggle to feel different from Invasion block, then the small sets had to feel different from the big set. But through all this, Ravnica Block feels like an entity that has so many details and attributes to fill every players heart with joy, as it offers something for everybody.
One of these details is the throwback factor, especially in Dissension. Not only did the block draw a lot of power from Invasion, that alone pulled Magic out of the hole that Urza and Masques digged, but has also a lot of older cards that were either fixed, functionally or even entirely reprinted, yet fit the sets like a glove.
The Dual lands and Karoos are easily identified with their predecessors of Alpha Duals and Visions Bouncelands, but there are also a lot of other cards that would we could name here. Helldozer, for example, is a "fixed" version of Demonic Hordes, making it less clunky and even bigger. The Fall side of Rise // Fall is an unbroken version of Hymn to Tourach, and Vitu-Ghazi was more than once compared with Kjeldoran Outpost.
The list from the block goes on and on but Dissension alone has quite some parallels to older fan favorites, e.g. Condemn, that can't be without having to compare to probably one of the best spot removals of all time, Swords to Plowshares; quite an unfair match up. After that there would be Brain Pry, a successor to Cabal Therapy, which is probably the best discard spell of all time. Now it's not quite as powerful without flashback and more often can turn out to be a more expensive Peek, yet is very nice interesting. The Therapy sometimes made you card disadvantage just from playing it, yet the good players could make a lot out of that card. Brain Pry makes sure you have no disadvantage from playing it, for the cost of the power. Brain Pry is a more user-friendly version of Cabal Therapy, if you will.
Also reprinting the two removal Seals that perfectly fit into the Rakdos guild can be said to be masterful in itself. Oh and don't get me started on Windreaver, which is a Morphling with different abilities that work as a unit to essentially do the same as the original.
Of course, a Dissension design review wouldn't be complete without an in depth look into the three Guilds the set has to offer, completing all the cycles the block structure had predicted and finishing the structure itself.
First would be the Simic Combine, who are said to be the personification of God Complex. The Simic were given the task to preserve nature in the urban and ever growing environment of Ravnica, but as they tried researching everything to know what to do, they also tried to improve nature, forming it after their own belief of what would be best for it. Some of these "improvements" turned out to be hideous monstrosities and mutations that should be filed under “top secret”. The Guild reflects this pretty well with the +1/+1 counters and their Graft ability, with multiple creatures sharing their power, giving the guild a bit of a Sliver feeling. I expected some more interaction of the guild and the aura theme Ravnica already had, but the Simic Guildmage seemed to be the beginning and end of that for Simic.
Next up is the Cult of Rakdos, a hedonistic group of lunatics and assassins that hail a demon lord. They love slaughter and mayhem, even more than the average goblin, and would like to end the existence of the plane itself in a big carnage. Mechanically, the Rakdos are very much about discard and resource limitation, but mostly in a symmetrical way. And this is where Hellbent kicks in, giving the permanents of the Rakdos an extra if you have no cards in hand. To stop this from being a drawback, the Rakdos have a lot of ways to even your opponent's hand size down to yours. The idea of putting Terry Soh's Invitational card into that guild seems to be a lot better now.
Last but not least there is the Azorius Senate. Mostly they are the lawmakers of Ravnica, trying to keep things in check and are taking a lot of action to keep others from acting. When the players heard that, most of them thought that the Senate would be incorporating the old draw-go style of play which older fans of Blue are still attracted to. However, Wizards decided against this, making W/U a bit less reactive and pushing the "Skies" theme that both colors are able to create. The results of this are still to dispute, but I think it's for the better. Most people only thought that Dissension alone would give you the tools to build such a deck and it wouldn't flesh out. Of course this is not the case, but Dissension gives you some tools nonetheless. With other cards throughout the block or in the existing T2 format, this play style is worthy of at least trying out.
Another aspect of Dissension are the innovations it bears, both from the block and from the game itself. The first to mention is the multicolor matters theme on multiple cards. This is more or less a reviewed concept of Invasion, but more focused on how many colors are in there, which represented by the Nephilim Enhancers. The twist of Dissension only cares if the card has multiple colors or not. The cards based on it look promising. Enemy and Guardian of the Guildpact and the Eidolon Cycle are quite interesting cards in limited. But the real deal are cards like Demand and Pillar of the Paruns, which could easily pop up in the constructed ranks as well.
Next there are the enhanced spells, that got a little, subtle twist from those the enhanced cards of Ravnica and Guildpact. The change was that they are more or less sorceries (yeah yeah, Plaxmanta is instant) that turn into creatures with keyword abilities if you spent the allied color from the guild to pay for the creature. Not only does this make the cards much more interesting, but also a lot more powerful. Even considerable for constructed.
And then there are those wacky first-time abilities. Azorius First-Wing is the first card with Protection from Enchantments. Not only does this prevent your opponent enchanting it with Pacifism-like enchantments, but also has a nice anti-interaction with the two seals. With the Ravnica block being very fond of Enchantments anyway, this is a very interesting card to look out for, not only in Limited and block, but also in Standard.
But the real attraction is Psychic Possession, the first enchant opponent. A very interesting card in itself thanks to the fact that there is a deck in Standard that is all about symmetrical draw effects, which this card locks right into, as it will always make you draw more cards than your opponent. The presence of a Howling Mine named Walking Archive and Vision Skeins provide nice symmetrical draw effects, very interesting cards for Johnny (and Owl players) to toy around with.
Down and out
I hope I could give you some understanding of the Dissension set and what it represents in the game or in the block. There are a lot things going on inside it, although there was not that much of a buzz around it in the rumor season. This set is quite interesting, as it accomplishes both tasks of finishing of one of the most exciting and design-wise perfect blocks in Magic's history but also keeping an identity as a single set.
Last but not least, I wish you a fun time exploring the set and its themes.
By Stefan Preiml on May 3rd, 2006 · Filed in General Magic · Comments not available just now
About Stefan Preiml
I was born in a small town in southern Austria and went there to school till I was 14. Then I transfered into a technical school in carinthias capitol Klagenfurt making my "Matura" (A-Level Exam) at the age of 19. I'm currently studying Informatics at the University of Klagenfurt. I started playing Magic in the summer of 2003 after some friends from school played in the school and I played a small scale CCG about The Simpsons before.