Ravnica: Dimir Intrigues Review (Part 1 of 2)
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!