Invasion: Dismissal Review (Part 1 of 2)
In the Winter of 1993, I went on a storied skiing expedition with fellow members of my university’s student council. I was one of those most uncommon of creatures- a person who had grown up in the Northeast but had never gone downhill skiing, though on a few occasions I’d had a blast doing the cross-country variety. Saddled with the same lack of balance and coordination that had sidelined me from such adventures such as skateboarding, rollerblading, and ice skating, I was reluctant but curious at the same time.
Countless people across the globe enjoy the rush it brings every day, and I resolved to have a safe and enjoyable day.
Towards that end, as we entered the slope I bid my friends and companions godspeed and made my way directly for the “kiddie slope.” Appropriately-named, I took my delight in weaving in and amongst children half my age, their veteran parents, and a few novices such as myself. I had a blast, slaloming down this juvenile hill at about twice the speed of smell, but for me it was a victory. I’d overcome my anxieties and prevailed, however low the bar had been set.
Around lunchtime, a few of my friends came back to check up on me, and encouragingly offered to take me to ski the “easiest real slope” that the mountain offered. Eager to put my newfound skills to the test, I accepted and off we went. This not being one of those stories about friends pulling a fast one for laughs, it really was the easiest real slope on offer, and I did well enough. I fell at regular intervals, which acted as a natural brake on speed, and only had a moment of panic when I crested a turn and found the final leg of the slope was a long slope downward. Determined to end on a high note, I gamely gritted my teeth and pushed myself down it, cracked up about one-third of the way down, and walked the rest of it.
Having had enough, I returned to the safety of my kiddie slope for the remainder of the day, but as the daylight started to wane my mates came ’round for one more crack at making a skier out of me. Another half-day’s experience was telling- I fell less, was more comfortable at a higher rate of speed, and when I hit that last slope down, I didn’t crack up a third of the way down. I didn’t crack up halfway down. Indeed, it wasn’t until I was close to the very bottom and had gained considerable momentum that I lost my balance and cracked up, fracturing my clavicle in the process and sustaining a very delightful concussion that set off a truly dreadful sequence of events involving mistaken identities, search parties, and an hourlong ride in an ambulance strapped to a flatboard and longing for the sweet release only death or heavy medication could bring.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve never gone skiing again. However for many, it remains a great source of enjoyment and- yes- even inspiration. Some seven years after my joy-filled trip to the slopes, another expeditious party was themselves waxing up the skis and putting on the thermals. Although they’d enjoy a few days of glorious shredding, this fated party of three wasn’t just there to play. Indeed, the entire motive behind the trip was to get out of the office and put their minds together for a major project they were working on. Under ordinary circumstances, the sort of project they had in mind could take half a year or more. To do it in a single season is considered “fast.” This team’s objective? To have the greater part of it done over the course of five days.
We know now that this elite strike force was comprised of Bill Rose, Vice President of R&D for Wizards of the Coast, and two of his top designers, Mike Elliott and Mark Rosewater. The set they designed would become Invasion. By this point, there had been all of six blocks in Magic, and none of them specifically dealt with the interplay between colours. The closest set to have done so was Legends, a one-off set in 1994 that was not tied thematically to any other release but famously introduced the gold-border card to the world. Invasion would be a set with modern design principles firmly in place (Legends, for instance, was famously bad in Limited thanks to its lack of removal), which not only enabled but encouraged multi-colour play.
Towards this end, the domain mechanic was introduced (though it would not get a proper keyword right away- for more on the history of this mechanic, click here). Another mechanic which would be released without a name- gating– was included, and a new keyworded mechanic was offered in the form of kicker. Kicker, which returned in Zendikar, gave you an optional added effect from a spell if you paid its extra kicker cost. By making kickers with colours other than that of the actual spell, Wizards was able to subtly encourage multi-colour play without doing so at the expense of a card’s playability. Combined with a substantial number of gold-bordered cards, you had a recipe for a set which explored the design space that surrounded the blending of the five colours of Magic.
Today’s deck is a good example of what’s possible when you look at the synergies between allied colours. Blue and Black have had a long history of fruitful partnership, combining the card drawing and countering of Blue with the aggressive removal Black brings to the table to offer a very lethal form of control. In Dismissal, Wizards has offered us a “thinking person’s deck,” looking to lock down the early game state with stalling tactics while you establish a state of permission, then use a few lethal beaters to whittle your paralysed opponent down to 0. It’s a devious deck filled with cards that promise spiteful fun, and as such is a great place to being our exploration of Invasion.
Serve a Nobler Cause
The creatures of Dismissal are a fairly diverse bunch, but a review of what they offer the deck tends to see them evenly split into two main categories: damage and disruption. The damage is the heart of the deck’s offense, the beatsticks you’ll be using most often to crush your opponent. Don’t be fooled by the front-loaded mana curve, this is no weenie deck. Indeed, if you’re casting your creatures as soon as you can, you’re doing something wrong. Getting the most out of your beaters requires some patience and planning, as many have the kicker mechanic available for maximum effect.
Consider some of your one-drops. The Duskwalker is a mere 1/1 and almost always a waste at that price point. Let the card sit in your hand for awhile, however, and you can turn it into a 3/3 with fear- a much more valuable use of the card. Similarly, for the same investment you can turn your 1/1 Faerie Squadron into a 3/3 with flying. You also have a few other creatures with kicker here, including a pair of Vodalian Serpents. With the potential to become massive 6/6’s, they are hindered only by the necessity for your opponent to have an Island in play to attack, but as we’ll see, there are a few ways around that. Finally, the Urborg Emissary won’t grow past her 3/1 stats if you pay the kicker, but she can set up some shenanigans for only two mana by returning a permanent to its owner’s hand.
The remaining beaters are a bit more straightforward affairs. The Vodalian Zombie is a 2/2 with protection from Green, shutting down the game’s most abundant creature-producer, though it’s fairly useless if your opponent’s not playing Green. The Metathran Zombie– a functional reprint of The Dark’s Drowned– is a superb stall-enabler, able to stymie your opponent’s best (non-trampling) creature each turn so long as you keep a Swamp up. A pair of Urborg Drakes are a solid body in the air, while the Slinking Serpent adds another layer of hose to any Green-wielding opponent with its forestwalk.
That’s about it for the beaters, and if you’re feeling underwhelmed by the options you’re in for a treat, as the deck’s disruption creatures are Dismissal’s main selling point. There are a ton of tricks and subtle interactions on tap here, and mastering them will be crucial to the deck’s success. Perhaps the most blunt instrument is the trio of Ravenous Rats. A two-mana 1/1, they force your opponent to discard a card when they enter play. On their own, they’re a nuisance, but howabout played every turn? If you have established some measure of advantage on the board, the Nightscape Apprentice can make sure your opponent is losing a card every round by putting the Rats back on top of your library. (The aforementioned Urborg Emissary can do this too, if the need is great enough). You also have the ability to grant first strike to a creature at instant speed, but alas you can’t do both at once. If you want an easier form of repeated discard, you can just bring out the Vodalian Hypnotist.
Like the Rats, the Phyrexian Infiltrator is a gift that can keep on giving if you manage to cast it multiple times in a game. Although it’s expensive, for six mana you can outright steal your opponent’s best creature, without any lingering enchantments (like Control Magic) sticking around as a vulnerability. Again the Urborg Emissary comes to mind, but the noncreature complement in Dismissal is also packed with bounce effects, so it’s not as unlikely as you might imagine.
The Stalking Assassin may have horrible art, but it’s a useful multitool in this deck. Since Dismissal relies more on subtlety than brute force, it’s ceded a lot of its card slots to Unsummon-style effects rather than outright creature kill, so having repeatable removal on a stick can be quite an advantage- and quite a deterrent against your opponent’s attack.
A pair of Dream Thrushes seem rather narrow in application until you remember the land restriction on the Vodalian Serpent and the lightbulb goes off. If you’d rather play fast and loose with colours rather than land types, the Tidal Visionary can help steer things your way. This can help you get around a creature’s protection, nudge your Duskwalker’s fear into a more advantageous colour if you’re playing a Black mage, or even open up the opportunities that your last creature- the Hate Weaver– can bring for power-pumping.
Sent Into a Plagued World
The noncreature support complement of Dismissal is no less sneaky and perfidous than its disruption creatures, and indeed looks to work hand in glove with them for maximum effect. Bounce spells top the list here, with the ability to return creatures to hand. This not only can help set up a deadly attack by nullifying your opponent’s best blocker, but can also help set them back on tempo by sending back something expensive or give you a second use out of enters-the-battlefield creatures like the Ravenous Rats or pay a kicker cost you missed the first time.
Recoil falls firmly in the offensive camp, thanks to its forced discard effect, and the deck leans heavily upon them. With three copies at your disposal, you’ll be causing no end of frustration to your opponent. Remember too that it targets a permanent, not just a creature, and if you’re managed to empty their hand before casting this (or they’ve naturally run out of cards), this effectively reads destroy target permanent as they return it then discard it. You also have a singleton Repulse, which is an Unsummon that replaces itself in your hand.
Discard effects take center stage here as well with some of the deck’s other offerings. Probe is a handy looting spell that can help flush trash out of your hand and replace it with better. Pay its kicker cost, and you’re hitting your opponent’s hand as well. Seer’s Vision is an enchantment that compels your opponent to play with their hand revealed, while yours remains hidden. Notice something particularly unpleasant there, and you can then pop the Vision to force them to discard it. Lobotomy– a reprint from Tempest- makes its appearance here as well.
As you might expect, it can take some orchestration to get all the pieces of your disruption engine online, so to protect the fruits of your labours you also have recourse to a somewhat conditional permission suite. The strongest of the bunch is Prohibit, which can counter most of what you’ll expect to see if you pay its kicker cost. Disrupt, on the other hand, is needle-thin narrow, but it’s about as cheap an effect as you can get for one mana that lets you draw a card off of it. You also can deny a single noncreature spell with the Blue half of Spite // Malice, though that should usually be done only in case of emergencies as its Malice half will usually be too valuable to squander. The only other removal spell on tap here is Agonizing Demise, which is effectively the same spell unless you have a Dream Thrush in play to enable payment for its kicker.
The last few spells here are some odds-n-ends. A Drake-Skull Cameo offers a bit of mana ramp/colour-fixing, while Opt is another single-mana cantrip effect that lets you take a one-time glimpse at the top card of your library. Finally, Cursed Flesh makes a creature a touch weaker, but on the upside also grants it fear. It’s worth noting that this can be used as ersatz removal if your opponent has a particularly nettlesome utility x/1 in play.
To help make sure you’re able to pay for your spells and effects, Dismissal gives you a smattering of nonbasic lands. The Sulfur Vent is there to help pay for the kicker on Agonizing Demise in case a Dream Thrush isn’t readily available, and can add extra mana in any event in a pinch. A pair of Salt Marshes give you access to both primary colours of the deck. Both come at the cost of entering the battlefield tapped.
When we reviewed the decks of Planeshift, we were quite impressed with some of the intricate play the set’s design afforded us. Although this is a step back from the larger card pool afforded them, it will be interesting to see how the deck plays out having limited itself only to the large set of the block. While it’s our practice now to review sets in block order (meaning we wouldn’t review Planeshift before having covered Invasion were we to do it again), we’re excited to see what these first four have to offer. We’ll take Dismissal into the field to see how it holds up.