Dissension: Simic Mutology Review (Part 1 of 2)
As one might imagine, no city with any hope of long-term growth would do well without some institutionalisation of medicine, and so it is with Ravnica and the Simic Combine, as represented in the Simic Mutology deck. According to the Guildpact, the function of the guild is medicine and health, but over time this has… adapted… somewhat to include medical research and mutation.
This is mechanically represented in the Simic’s unique guild machanic, Graft:
Fittingly, the deck is heavily lopsided in favour of creatures- there are only eight noncreature cards included- and there are plenty of opportunities to experience the flavour of Graft. Let’s begin with the beaters.
Fruits of Magic
An initial reaction to Graft is that it seems to work as something of a pyramid scheme in reverse. You get out an early Graft critter or two, then begin mass-transferring more and more +1/+1 counters with each successive cast until you’re looking at huge Frankenstein-like beaters for relatively minor costs. Of course, there’s a certain element of card disadvantage at play here, particularly with the cheaper Grafters- a Simic Initiate, for instance, pops one and is done. Kill the new critter who the +1/+1 counter went to, and you’ve effectively two-for-oned them.
It’s not entirely a one-way street. As we’ll see, the deck does provide a few options to replenish these counters, but they are either slow or expensive in the main. Nowadays you’d gleefully plop in a foursome of Thrummingbirds, but of course this deck has no such recourse.
Let’s go ahead and look at the mana curve:
As we can see, the deck is teetering a bit on the back-end with so many expensive options. Let’s see how it gets up to that point.
At your one-drop slot, you have a trio of your most fundamental of Graft building blocks, the hapless Simic Initiate. Although as mentioned above they carry an inherent risk of card advantage, there is some offset to be had in a weenie creature that never becomes obsolete. Once the red zone is sufficiently deadly to the poor Initiate, simply pop him off onto the next critter you cast for a nice little bonus.
In addition, the deck gives you a duo of Rusalkas, the Drowned and the Starved. The Drowned is very solid, allowing you to sac a creature to loot from your library. The Starved is terrible- a measly 1 life seems hardly worth the trouble.
Moving on to the two-drops, we don’t find any Graft creatures, but instead have a number of efficient and utility cards to move the deck along. The pair of Coiling Oracles are nothing special on their own- a 1/1 for two mana- but nets you a free card (and if it’s land, it goes right into play). Surveilling Sprites continue the card economy, replacing themselves when they die in addition to being an evasive body (the perfect kind for Graft counters). Plaxmanta is superb, acting as a quasi-counterspell attached to a 2/2 body for two mana. And of course, there’s a Simic Guildmage which enables some flexibility and/or shenanigans on the field of play.
We move back to Grafting at the next rung up the ladder, including a trio of Vigean Hydropons whose sole existence in life is to give away their counters- they’re a hefty 5/5 for three mana, but unable to attack or block. A pair of Vigean Graftmages bring a couple more +1/+1 tokens onto the table, and have a nifty little trick to boot which should help out on defense. Finally, there’s a pair of Silkwing Scouts, which have the very dubious distinction of having perhaps the worst card art in the entire set. We’ll happily go on record saying that we like what Rebecca Guay brings to her cards, but this one seemed like a sketch done one hour before deadline. On a college-ruled piece of paper. Apparently, we’re not alone in that, either. Still, another pair of evasive bodies for your Graft tokens is always welcome, and their replacement effect helps justify their cost.
In contrast to the prior selections, the larder for the four-drops is quite bare- a pair of Simic Ragworms. But assuming you’ve managed to make it this far, the deck is wide open at the top of the curve, with no less than seven creatures costing five mana or more. Four of these are designed to augment your army by granting an additional ability to creatures with +1/+1 counters on them: two each of Helium Squirters and Simic Basilisks.
A singleton Indrik Stomphowler gives you your only ability to get rid of a nettlesome artifact or enchantment, so use it wisely. Also note the absence of a “may” clause in its wording, so you could potentially destroy one of your own auras if you’re not careful. Experiment Kraj– that beloved EDH general- makes an appearance here as well. It’s ability isn’t terribly useful in this deck, since most every creature you have with an activated ability is not required to tap to use it except Kraj itself, but when paired with the Simic Ragworm becomes delightfully degenerate. Don’t forget to keep a sharp eye out at your opponent’s creatures, too! A single +1/+1 counter is a more than fair trade for the ability to mimic any of their activated abilities.
Lastly, the Protean Hulk sits nicely at the top of the curve with a fantastic repalcement ability. It’s worth noting that if you’re especially keen on getting the Kraj combo rolling, you do have a pair of sac outlets in the form of the Rusalkas that you can use to hasten the Hulk’s demise. You may find that your opponent will attempt to avoid killing this big fella out of fear of what you might fetch up if he perishes as well.
All in all, though, the deck appears fairly well-balanced. Although there’s a risk of card disadvantage in Graft, the deck seems to acknowledge this by including card advantage critters (like Coilfang Oracle and Surveilling Sprite) to even things out. That said, in a deck with little ramp (only the Silkwing Scouts really qualify), having a top-heavy back-end is cause for concern.
Roots in Science
If the bad news is that there aren’t a lot of noncreature options here (including removal), there’s some consolation in discovering that the options that are available are at least consistent. There are only four spells, but you have two copies of each at your disposal.
Stasis Cell might well be the most important one in that it’s your only true removal option, and even then it’s rather conditional. Still, the fact that you can essentially recast it onto a different creature as need arises greatly adds to its utility. Shielding Plax will also be a bread-and-butter spell for the deck, allowing you to grant “troll shroud” onto the creature its enchanting (don’t forget, your Guildmage can move it around for you at instant-speed, making it another pseudo-counterspell in your arsenal). Thrive rains +1/+1 counters down on your army, while Flash Foliage is basically rubbish here. It’s nice that it cantrips, but it’s a defensive-minded card that contributes little, and would gladly be flushed away for a little extra removal.
The deck also includes some nonbasic land, the most notable of which is Novijen, Heart of Progress, which simply gives you additional access to +1/+1 counters on freshly-summoned critters. In summary, here is the deck’s combined mana curve:
The lack of removal remains the real weakness of the deck. A cascade of steadily-growing beaters is nice, but the deck seems almost exclusively reliant on winning in the red zone with little noncreature support. This seems far more Green than Blue, and the lack of intricacy is a slight disappointment. Any sort of bounce effect to return counter-depleted Grafties would have been useful as well.
Still, it remains to be seen how the deck will function in the field. Join us next time when we present our own research notes on Simic Mutology.