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August 29, 2011

10

Ravnica: Dimir Intrigues Review (Part 1 of 2)

by Dredd77

In 1748 in Bavaria, a man by the name of Johann Adam Weishaupt was born. Although his own father died when he was five years old, he was raised by his godfather and given a very solid education, including enrollment at the University of Ingolstadt with a degree in law. He went on to become a law professor, and soon after a specialist in canon (church) law. In 1776, when Weishaupt was 28, he founded a secret society called the Illuminati, made up of freethinkers and dedicated to the overthrow of the established social order in Europe- an end to monarchy and state religion. Beginning with five members, the Illumanti had swelled to around 2,000 within the decade.

Naturally, given its explosive popularity and seditious nature, the Illuminati couldn’t remain secret forever. The activities of the group were noted by the authorities, and when some writings of a treasonous nature fell into their hands, the government of Bavaria fnord banned them in 1784. Now 36, Weishaupt lost his job and was forced to flee abroad. A curious twist of fate was to see Weishaupt rebuild his Illuminati in a new land, one open to his guidance and influence free of the entrenched interests of Europe. Like many others seeking opportunity, Weishaupt eventually came to America.

In 1789, the great military commander George Washington was established as the fledgling nation’s first President, and although a few years his junior, Wesihaupt bore an uncanny resemblance to him. At some point during Washington’s time in office0 generally thought to be towards the end- Weishaupt killed Washington and took his place. Now holding the very reins of power, Weishaupt was free to rebuild his Illuminati, and this time he was going to get it right. It would be secret, as before, but a deep secret. Membership would be highly selective, looking to quietly recruit those in positions of power. Those who carried out its day-to-day functions would never even know it existed, but instead would be duped and misdirected, never knowing even that there was more to know. They would tread the very halls of power in politics, industry, science, and entertainment, adding to their ranks and bringing about their New World Order. Most would remain ignorant of their existence, others would see them as mythical or imaginary. They would appear in stores and fiction, but those who sought the dark in shadows would be dismissed as chasing phantasms and paranoid. After all, there’s no way such a thing could exist, and no-one not know about it, right? And everything you just read… truth? Lies? Somewhere in between?

In that spirit, allow us then to introduce Ravnica’s own Illuminati.

The Dimir are the shadowy “tenth guild,” in a Guildpact where officially there are only nine. Those few that speak of the Dimir give it little credence or credulity- it, too, is a myth, a conspiracy theorist’s crank imagining. Surely no reasonable person would believe that secret agents of a secret guild move amongst society even today, pushing and prodding towards their own agenda? And with that stage being set, we come now to Dimir Intrigues, a deck which proves that indeed… they do exist.

The Black/Blue Dimir guild is built around their guild mechanic of transmute. 

Transmute represents the resourcefulness of the Dimir, as well as their ever-changing nature. Appearances cannot be believed, and so what could be one card in your Dimir opponent’s hand could very quickly become another, as necessity and circumstances dictated. To get the most out of this ability, Dimir Intrigues runs counter to the usual build of preconstructed decks, which is to give players a wide array of options over the spectrum of casting costs (with one-drops being more or less optional depending on the strategy). Instead, what you find here are two very deep reservoirs of cards at the two- and four-casting-cost slots, to give you the greatest amount of options from which to choose. Need a kill spell in a pinch? Throw away that Dimir Infiltrator and tutor up Last Gasp. Need another robust body on the battlefield to shore up your defenses? Transmute Clutch of the Undercity and pull out a Vedalken Entrancer instead.

If there’s a downside to this, it is that it is not without cost. Although the transmute cost varies in terms of colour makeup, it always costs three mana. That’s a lot for an action which by itself in no way advances or affects your game state. But as their ‘role’ in society has shown, the Dimir are nothing if not patient, a theme which we’ll see reflected over and over in the cards that make up the deck.

Truth Sold as Lies

As mentioned above, we see the greatest concentrations of creatures in the two- and four-drop slots, though the deck has a few options at the very top of the curve as well.

One of the first things you notice about Dimir’s minions is that they tend to have an asymmetrical power/toughness, and one that in almost every case favours the latter. Indeed, while the deck can certainly kill an opponent by dealing 20 damage, it has a much more insidious win condition in mind: milling.

For those unfamiliar, milling is the term used to describe the act of forcing your opponent to move cards directly from their library into their graveyard. Although it originated with an artifact (Antiquities’ Millstone), thematically over time it has come to represent the act of forgetfulness, of a mage losing part of the contents of his or her mind (see: Memory Erosion, Jace’s Erasure). What better way for the Guild of Secrets to preserve its secrecy than through memory manipulation?

The deck’s milling options start slowly, but build from there. At the two-drop slot you have a trio of Lurking Informants, which allow you to look at the top card of a player’s library and- if you so choose- put it into the graveyard. Note that this ability targets a player, not an opponent- it’s just as good for helping you improve your draw quality when needed. The efficient Dimir Infiltrator gives you a solid blocker- or an unblockable attacker. It also boasts the transmute ability, allowing you to tutor for any other two-drop in the deck. Twin Lore Brokers give a table-wide looting ability, which is best used when your opponent is playing with an empty hand, but still contributes at any time towards depleting your opponent’s libary. Finally, the Dimir Guildmage has a pair of very useful abilities, letting you either draw a card yourself, or force your opponent to discard one.

At the four-drop slot, we have a similarly diverse array of creatures. The Vedalken Entrancer is an unrepentant mill engine which comes attached to a very robust blocking body. It’s the perfect combination given the aims of Dimir Intrigues, and the deck packs in three of them. A pair of Wizened Snitches are 1/3 flyers which also force all players to play with the top card of their library revealed. Canny players might save a transmute effect for when they’d like a free reshuffle of their library to try and get a better card on top.

A Mausoleum Turnkey is a variation of the Gravedigger, but in exchange for an extra point of power the target of the salvage is up to your opponent, not you. Lastly, we have a pair of Dimir House Guards, 2/3 regenerators with fear. Against a deck not fielding Black or artifact creatures, these can be a relentless and unblockable attacker. They’re also quite capable of defense, and carry transmute to boot- a potent package!

At the top of the curve we have five of the deck’s most robust bodies. Twin Belltower Sphinxes are perfect for Dimir Intrigues- in addition to being a source of evasive damage, they are massive defenders which also further your milling strategy. A pair of Sewerdregs are likely best regarded as inefficient 3/3’s… their swampwalk is highly conditional, and their ability to exile a card in an opponent’s graveyard will be useless most of the time (unless, of course, your opponent is the graveyard-dwelling Golgari guild, which we’ll be reviewing later). Finally, the deck’s legendary creature is Szadek, Lord of Secrets. Although he carries a massive pricetag (seven mana), once he’s on the board he’ll put your opponent on a very fast clock if he can’t be dealt with. Although he can only kill creatures (against opponents he mills instead), he doubles in size every time he connects with a player. In one swing he’ll have milled for 5, two for 15, three for 40- few libraries can long withstand that sort of pressure.

Melt into the Darkness

The noncreature support of Dimir Intrigues is an impressive array of Blue and Black’s combined strengths. The first thing to note is the robust removal suite. Two Last Gasps are relatively cheap and easy ways to kill most of the creatures you’re likely to face. Ribbons of Night has a touch more killpower, though it is slower and more expensive. On the upside, it can very easily be cantripped, replacing itself with another card in your hand. Twin Disembowels can kill any size prey, though its cost scales with the creature’s. Finally, there’s a Clutch of the Undercity which leans more towards Blue’s preferred removal: the Unsummon. Clutch has a few significant distincions, though, which justify its cost. First, it can bounce permanents, not just creatures. Second, it damages your opponent in the process. And finally, it has transmute, meaning you can swamp it out for something more to your liking if battlefield circumstances don’t call for it.

A pair of Psychic Drains strongly support your milling strategy, and can gain you a ton of life in the process. Note that the converted mana cost of Psychic Drain is two (when undefined, X = 0), so the Drains can be transmuted up by your Dimir Infiltrators. A pair of Induce Paranoias not only counter a threat before it resolves, but like Ribbons of Night you get an extra effect as a reward for using the right colours of mana to pay for the spell. In this case, using  to pay for it lets you mill your opponent for the converted casting cost of the spell you just countered- double the fun!

A Dream Leash is a Control Magic variant that is not limited to creatures. Like Clutch of the Undercity, the Dimir’s ambitions are wider… this one lets you nick an opponent’s permanent, under the condition that whatever you are trying to nick can only be stolen when tapped. Three Consult the Necrosages give you card draw or forced discard, depending on whatever’s most needed in the moment, and it does so at a reasonable cost. Finally, for the obligatory mana fixing in this two-colour deck we have a Dimir Signet.

Towards that end, the deck also provides you with a couple Dimir Aqueducts, to ensure you have the right colour of mana when you need it. The Dimir’s uncommon land- Duskmantle, House of Shadow– is also present to give you one more option to mill your opponent. Overall, here is the deck’s mana curve for all nonland cards:

Closing on a flavourful note, it feels like something of a missed opportunity that the Dimir were featured in Ravnica rather than Dissension. Although certainly concerns about colour balance were a guiding principle in determining which guilds get released when, having “the secret Guild” as an option in the very first set punts on taking advantage of the mystery that surrounds them, and in that regard makes them “just another” guild. We’d have thought leaving them ’til last would give a sense of anticipation and mystery for this most enigmatic guild.

Still, Dimir Intrigues has all the look of a fun and intriguing precon. The solid representation of its guild’s mechanic, the tight flavour identity, and the alternate win condition all make this deck one we’re excited to try. We’ll put it through its paces, and see if the Guild of Secrets can come out ahead. See you next time!

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10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Aug 29 2011

    Interesting review as usual. But you forgot to thumbnail it… The entire review is visible on the front page. xD

    Reply
    • Aug 29 2011

      Glad you enjoyed! And thanks for the nudge, I fixed it.

      Reply
      • Aug 29 2011

        No problem. I find it interesting that you pointed out how similar the Dimir are to the Illuminati. I never actually made the connection myself. Looking forward too seing this deck in play actually, mainly because of it’s sheer trickiness. A defensive mill-deck that gives you occasional, limited tutoring? Sounds good to me.

        Reply
  2. Varo
    Aug 29 2011

    Nice review!

    I have always liked this deck’s theme, but i don’t know if it’s solid enough to hold its ground against other precons.

    Also, thanks for that bit of history, that was very interesting.

    Reply
  3. Aug 29 2011

    Well done write-up, as usual. *nod*

    And what an interesting deck…

    Reply
  4. web8970
    Aug 30 2011

    What a great narrative introduction, giving much credit to the Dimir, to those who deserve it …

    As for playtesting, it would be fun to put the Dimir up against the Golgari, a guild that practically mills itself via the dredge mechanic … 😉

    Reply
  5. Meritocracy
    Aug 28 2012

    Too bad that House Dimir proved to be not only the most underpowered guild in Ravnica by a longshot, but quite possibly the most underpowered faction in the history of gaming, period.

    It’s easy to see why. Milling is quite possibly the DUMBEST idea for a guild theme. It completely ignores card advantage, board position, tempo, ramp, in short, everything MTG is about. In fact, in the era of graveyard manipulation, it’s likely to do more harm than good. (and they just had to put Dimir in the same *set* as the dredge-happy Golgari LMAO)

    Worse yet, it’s a senseless betrayal of the guild’s flavor: allegedly, being methodical and secretive. I’m sorry, but plopping cards from the library into the yard and praying it doesn’t help the opponent isn’t very blue/black; such recklessness is more in the vein of red. Also, transmuting is slow, clunky, and worst of all, you have to reveal the card tutored for. Because telegraphing your intentions just screams stealth, right? XD

    Reply
    • Jay Chong
      Jan 1 2013

      All true, but milling represents 1) blue/black’s preference to be subtle and milling isn’t something most decks have a defense against. Its very blue/black for the guild to attack opponents where they are weakest. 2) Milling plays into blue and black’s combined strength: power over the mind. Milling represents blue/black’s ability to destroy the opponent’s mind while transmute represents blue and black’s mastery over its own mind.

      Reply
      • Meritocracy
        Feb 17 2013

        As for most decks not having a defense, it’s because they don’t need one. With all the creature power-creep taking over the meta, mill decks can’t outrace enemy dudes. Nor do enemy decks need to devote sideboard space to it, because as I mentioned before, the game itself hoses mill. Though it would be hilarious to see some millscrub forced to GG on turn zero when the opponent gets lucky with a Leyline of Sanctity in his opening seven. 😀

        Another thing I forgot to mention in my diatribe of milling being an epic flavor fail is that these spells make the Dimir look incredibly sloppy when it comes to covering up their tracks. The reason? Rule 404.2 – the graveyard is a public zone. Any time a mill effect goes off, that’s information for all players in the game, but the Dimir is footing the bill for it. Atrocious!

        One possible fix is something like this: instead of an effect that mills three cards, for example, why not this instead:

        “Look at the top three cards of target player’s library. You may exile any of those cards face-down.”

        THAT is a much better argument for “power over the mind”, where the Dimir mage is the only one to know what has been tossed out. It also has going for it usefulness on both oneself and the opponent.

        R&D claims they want to make mill viable, but then they power creep the !@#$ out of creatures and leave Memory Lapse a Modern-ineligible card (that off-color overcosted wannabe from Conflux doesn’t count). Instead, I’m calling it out for what it is: a blatant nerf.

        Reply

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