Building_on_a_Budget

Jay ties up some loose ends with the most mysterious guild of Ravnica.

Interlude: The Budget House Dimir

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The letter H!ello, and a belated Happy New Year to you!

As you may recall, way back in 2005 I wrapped up a Followed Footsteps deck that embraced the ideals of House Dimir. What I didn't have time to do was follow that series up with a budget look at the Guild of Secrets, the same sort of treatment I gave the Selesnya Conclave awhile back. Today I'm making up for lost time, focusing on the essential commons, uncommons, and budget rares in Standard available to a Dimir disciple. Whether you like beatdown, control, or just plain sneaky underhandedness, there should be something in here for you to enjoy.

Building With House Dimir

As a reminder: Before Guildpact sweeps onto the scene with its fresh crop of guilds, Standard consists of 9th Edition, Champions of Kamigawa, Betrayers of Kamigawa, Saviors of Kamigawa, and Ravnica: City of Guilds. These sets -- especially Ravnica -- have opened the door for a lot of fun deck ideas in Black and Blue. Where Black and Blue decks collide, you will often find the handiwork of Szadek and his hidden guild.

Bear with me a few moments while I draw your attention to the flavorful aspects of House Dimir. You can understand the underlying philosophy from Mark (Rosewater) and Aaron, both of whom provide good primers on the Dimir and their mechanics. For pure flavor, though, I prefer dipping into Rei Nakazawa's Ravnica overview. There he says:

Finally, we have the most hidden of guilds, so secretive that most Ravnican citizens believe that it died out ages ago: House Dimir. Only the other guilds know of the continued existence of the Dimir, who are most often seen (if they are seen at all) lurking in the shadowy alleys and sewers of Ravnica. Appropriately enough, their stock in trade is secrets: no dark knowledge or carefully guarded plan is safe from Dimir agents. So far, the guild is content to stay behind the scenes; their most overt agents are bandits and spies who keep to Ravnica's vast underworld. Spirits are one of their favorite types of agent, being untouchable, completely loyal, and able to drift through walls effortlessly.

But, of course, Szadek, their psionic vampire guildmaster, has much bigger plans for his group. Knowledge is, after all, power, especially in a place like Ravnica. Once the other guilds become dependent on their information, or they've gathered enough, who else will be better suited to strike against the others when the time is right?

Secrets. Shadows. Lurkers. Spies. Spirits. Vampires. These are the nucleus of House Dimir and represent the foundation of any deck built upon its ideals. Such decks are the basis of today's article.

My goal here is to provide a broad overview of what tools a budget Dimir deckbuilder has at her disposal. As I did with the Selesnya Conclave, I'll discuss the ends of the strategic spectrum, looking at cards for both budget beatdown and budget control decks, then shift my focus to quirkier ideas. Note that my intent here is on the broad, not the deep. Today should feel like a survey course in House Dimir.

House Dimir Beatdown

I'll start with the most basic end of the strategic spectrum: All-out aggression, aka aggro, aka beatdown. As I said in my previous article, if you build aggro decks then you want to have cheap, efficient threats. Your goal is to count to twenty damage as quickly as possible. You don't plan for the late-game because you don't anticipate a late-game existing. Pure beatdown decks are about WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! until all that's left of your opponent is a smoldering crater.

You wouldn't think that a guild based on secret-stealing and deception would be very good at a beatdown strategy. In this, you would be grievously mistaken. House Dimir is actually quite good at pure aggro, and if you're attracted to this sort of strategy then you may want to consider these Standard staples:

Staple Commons

The path to victory in aggro decks is, first and foremost, creatures. There are a bunch of creatures that are solid but unremarkable for a Dimir Aggro deck, cards like Festering Goblin, Bile Urchin, Ravenous Rats, Nezumi Ronin, and Raving Oni-Slave. Only three creatures, though, strike me as ones that will show up in a lot of different aggro decklists. The first is Takenuma Bleeder, whose drawback is negligible for a deck looking to win quickly and whose body survives things like Shock and Hideous Laughter. The next two work well together--the often-unblockable Nezumi Cutthroat and the ever-sneaky Ninja of the Deep Hours. For some reason, whenever someone sees the Ninja in a decklist they automatically label it a Ninja deck. But even when it's the only Ninja in the deck, it's still an aggressive creature that can keep filling your hand with threats.

The real reason to get excited about commons for Dimir aggro, however, is the creature removal. Far and away the best of the lot is Last Gasp, a card that is quickly becoming an automatic four-of in any deck using Black. After that, the options are good but with distinct drawbacks. Whether you use Dark Banishing, Rend Flesh, Rend Spirit, or Horobi's Whisper is largely dependent on your individual deck and the decks you're most likely to face. Don't forget about Blue's contribution to removal, too, which forces an opponent to lose tempo rather than blockers. Cards like Consuming Vortex and Boomerang will often delay an opponent just long enough for a Dimir Aggro deck to win.

Staple Uncommons

The quality of creatures goes up a lot in the uncommon pool. Hand of Cruelty and Ogre Marauder are hyper-aggressive and terrific if your deck is slanted towards Black. Against some decks, in fact, Hand of Cruelty will win the game single... uh, handedly.

Nezumi Graverobber is efficiently-costed (meaning that its power is equal to its cost), can be a nightmare for decks utilizing the graveyard as a resource, and in longer games its reanimation ability can dominate the table. None of these are its best attribute for a beatdown deck, though. No, what's terrific about Nezumi Graverobber in an aggressive deck is the fact that it is often swinging as a 4/2 on the third turn.

Blue offers a deceptively good creature in Halcyon Glaze. I know that technically the Glaze isn't a creature, but in a deck stuffed full of creatures it is effectively a third-turn 4/4 flier that can't block and that can't die to Wrath of God. That's incredible for Dimir aggro, and can be one of the most significant threats in your deck.

Perhaps the two best creatures in Dimir aggro are Moroii and Dimir Guildmage. Moroii is the better of the two (and may be the best aggressive creature available to Black/Blue, budget or not) and is one of those "deal with me or perish" sort of threats. Dimir Guildmage is good because you can always cast it on the second turn, which is an important consideration for budget deckbuilders who can't afford Watery Grave and/or Underground River. The Guildmage, like Nezumi Graverobber, also gives you a fighting chance against opponents who survive to the midgame or after.

As for non-creatures, the pickings are slim. Blackmail is effective for an aggressive deck and easier for a two-color deck to cast than Distress (though Distress is great if your deck is heavily Black). Cruel Edict is good removal to back up Last Gasp. Manriki-Gusari makes your creatures scarier while also combating a budget deckbuilder's worst nightmare.

Like the commons, there are other, more situational, cards that you'll sometimes find are wonderful in your deck and that sometimes simply don't fit. Some examples are Air Elemental, Razorjaw Oni, Exhaustion, Genju of the Falls, Remand, Keening Banshee, Kiku's Shadow, and O-Naginata. These aren't cards you'll find yourself using a lot in Dimir aggro, but they are certainly options to consider as you round out your deck.

Budget Rares

I can see three rares that won't break your bank and yet can really enhance an aggressive Dimir deck. The first is Kira, Great Glass-Spinner, the only creature whose power is less than its cost that I wholeheartedly recommend for a weenie deck. With Kira on the board, your creatures will only die in combat (a fight your aggressive creatures are likely to win) or something akin to Wrath of God. Making the majority of an opponent's creature removal useless is terrific for an aggro deck.

The next two rares worth considering are both of the high-risk/high-reward variety. Mindslicer is beefy and mean, and by the time it hits the table your hand should be mostly empty anyway. Tomb of Urami is good for a deck filled with cheap cards and without a lot of use for its land. Both of these cards will sometimes randomly cause you to lose the game, yet in the right deck are much more likely to crush an opponent to pulp.

Using these ideas, here is a Dimir beatdown deck whose singular purpose is to keep pressure on an opponent until they crumble to dust. I almost felt guilty the several evenings I played this deck because when I won, it was in a brutally short amount of time. It's also a rare-less deck, which is a nice bonus.

Da House (lite!)

Main Deck

60 cards

11  Island
11  Swamp

22 lands

Dimir Guildmage
Dimir Infiltrator
Hand of Cruelty
Moroii
Nezumi Cutthroat
Nezumi Graverobber
Ninja of the Deep Hours
Teardrop Kami

31 creatures

Halcyon Glaze
Last Gasp

7 other spells


Teardrop Kami looks silly, but it enables a second-turn Ninja of the Deep Hours, can remove a blocker for a turn, and can sometimes surprise an opponent by untapping one of my creatures to block. It's still sort of silly, but I haven't been able to find anything for the deck that works better.

House Dimir Control

Now let's turn one-hundred and eighty degrees from beatdown to the other end of the strategic spectrum. As I said in my Budget Selesnya article, "Generally speaking, if you make a control deck then you want to have answers for all of your opponent's questions. Drop a creature? Get rid of it. Drop lots of creatures? Get rid of them all. Try this? No. Try that? Sorry. Control decks spend the early and middle parts of the game surviving an opponent's initial onslaught, then they start rolling. In general, the longer the game goes the more it's to the control player's advantage. Control decks use very few win conditions, but usually can ensure that those few conditions will in fact win the game."

If you blur your eyes, there are two basic types of House Dimir control decks: Those that play like "traditional" control decks using removal and counterspells to dominate the board and win with a hard-to-handle threat, and those that look to win via milling away an opponent's library. Although people are currently enamored with the milling approach, it's a tougher one to make for budget deckbuilders because they often don't have access to key cards like Glimpse the Unthinkable and Traumatize. Thus I'm going to defer mostly to the traditional control strategy, though I'll mention some good budget milling cards along the way.

As you might expect given the nature of the guild, House Dimir offers a lot of juicy tools to control decks. Consider these deck staples:

Staple Commons

Control decks care less about casting creatures and more about getting rid of those an opponent casts. For this reason, Last Gasp is again a terrific card for Dimir Control, and of the other removal options, Horobi's Whisper gets the nod because it can be used multiple times via splice.

Even better than killing creatures is never letting them hit the table. Mana Leak is the best two-mana counterspell in Standard, Perplex is pretty darned good for three mana, and Induce Paranoia is a must for any milling deck. Other decent options exist--including Convolute, Thoughtbind, and Remove Soul--but those first three are going to be the backbone of countermagic in a Dimir control deck.

I wasn't quite sure what to make of Consult the Necrosages until I played against it several games. Although it can sometimes be difficult to cast for a deck without good multilands, what makes Consult so much better than Counsel of the Soratami or Mind Rot is its flexibility to be either one of these cards in a given situation. It's also worth noting that Consult the Necrosages lets you force your opponent to draw cards, which is sometimes important for milling decks. Other good card-drawers exist for control decks, too, including Sleight of Hand, Compulsive Research, and Sift.

Transmute tends to be a juicy mechanic for slower decks. The aforementioned Perplex is the best one, but Dimir House Guard, Drift of Phantasms, and Brainspoil are sometimes going to be gold in your Dimir deck. The trick to making these cards effective is gaining from both of its modes; That is, if your deck needs defense and also has a bunch of important three-cost cards in your deck, then Drift of Phantasms is the best choice. If, however, most of your best cards cost four mana and you need offense, then you defer to Dimir House Guards. You get the idea.

Finally, it's worth noting that control decks care about hoarding mana much more than their aggro counterparts. Most control decks function best when they are able to develop their mana consistently over the first ten or so turns. For this reason, expect to use Dimir Signet and Dimir Aqueduct regularly in dedicated control strategies.

Staple Uncommons

First, let's discuss the uncommons that every control deck--traditional or milling--want to use. The easiest no-brainer is Sensei's Divining Top, a card that every control deck should include automatically because of its ability to smooth draws over the course of a game (especially if you happen to have shuffle effects like transmute in your deck). A second obvious inclusion is Hideous Laughter, a board-sweeper that can devastate weenie swarms and even take care of problematic creatures like Hand of Honor and Paladin en-Vec. With Selesnya Conclave decks rising in popularity, Hideous Laughter is going to be a life saver.

I'm not sure that Dimir Guildmage is quite an automatic inclusion for Dimir control decks--especially those using Hideous Laughter--but it will certainly show up regularly. Unlike aggressive decks that care about the Guildmage's 2/2 body for two mana, control decks favor its ability to make a difference later in the game via discard and card-drawing. Even though many control decks tend to be creature light or completely creatureless, the Guildmage takes up far fewer slots than discard and card-drawing separately (for example, in the form of Honden of Night's Reach and Honden of Seeing Winds).

Two card-drawers--Telling Time and Tidings--will help either a milling deck or a traditional control deck find its answers and/or threats as needed. Like Dimir Guildmage, I'm not sure these two cards will always show up in every control deck every time, but they are solid considerations to support any control strategy. Thieving Magpie will sometimes fill this role as well.

Those are generic staples. For milling decks specifically, I would say the only reason they can exist in a budget deckbuilder's imagination is Psychic Drain. In fact, I think Psychic Drain is so important a tool for a budget milling deck that I could imagine using Green as a support color for mana-acceleration via Sakura-Tribe Elder, Kodama's Reach, and the like. Duskmantle, House of Shadow is another card that will make its way into every budget milling deck as an uncounterable mini-Millstone. Dampen Thought complements both of these cards admirably.

The prospects are better for traditional, non-milling control decks. Moroii rears its vampiric head again as a scary threat that is cheap enough to leave mana open for countermagic. Icy Manipulator is longtime staple of control decks, able to wreak a surprising amount of havoc with an opponent's side of the table over the course of a game. Air Elemental is another nostalgic, yet solid, choice if the life-loss from Moroii scares you. Clutch of the Undercity is an excellent Boomerang variant and usually a better four-mana transmute card than Dimir House Guard for control decks. Diabolic Tutor is the quintessential tutor. Nightmare Void is quickly proving that it has a place even in control decks that don't utilize the graveyard as a resource. Exile Into Darkness is solid, reusable creature control for Dimir control decks (and has nice synergy with Nightmare Void). Hinder is probably Standard's best three-mana counterspell. And, finally, Consume Spirit is a darned good finisher for slow decks generating a lot of Black mana.

Budget Rares

For traditional control decks with few threats, I think it makes less sense to talk about budget rares because it's easy to slip in one or two copies of powerhouses like Meloku the Clouded Mirror or Kokusho, the Evening Star as your primary win condition. Oh, I suppose there are a few potential gems lying around like Daring Apprentice and Will-o'-the-Wisp, but I think you can accomplish everything in a Dimir control deck by mostly focusing on commons and uncommons alone.

To test my own theory, I set about making my own budget Dimir control deck. The results were... evil. I've won more games with the below deck than most of my final precon evolutions, and it has reminded me of the wicked pleasure I can get from completely stripping my opponent of options during a game. Here's my version of a traditional control deck within House Dimir:

House of Secrets

As I've said repeatedly today, budget Dimir milling decks are a different story. If we assume that the average deckbuilder can't get four copies of Glimpse the Unthinkable and Traumatize, then you need to get pretty creative to make a milling strategy work. I see three possible budget options here. The first is Cloudhoof Kirin, which makes a partner to Dampen Thought and Psychic Drain in a deck focused on Spirit and (more likely) arcane cards like Hideous Laughter, Eerie Procession, and Consuming Vortex.

The second option is Szadek, Lord of Secrets, whose biggest drawback is his cost. Go back to the three-color idea I mentioned earlier, adding Green for mana-acceleration, and I think you start to have the basis for a deck here. Goodness knows that you shouldn't need much else than Psychic Drain and Szadek to completely wither an opponent's library.

The third and final option is Tunnel Vision, a card that probably is as close to a "high-risk/high-reward" card as you can get for budget Dimir control. Sometimes you'll get very little for your six mana, and other times it will be better than Traumatize. Hinder should help you out a bit as could, I suppose, Teferi's Puzzle Box or Junktroller if a) your opponent is using few multiples of cards in his deck, and b) you're feeling crazy.

Other House Dimir Deck Ideas

As I said, those are two basic approaches to budget deckbuilding. Not all decks start with the idea of being either focused aggro or focused control, however. Midrange and aggro-control decks, for example, are going to borrow ideas from both of these camps to create their decklists. Other decks back their way into strategy by focusing first on a card or type of card they want to build around. For the rest of today, I'm going to look at a few other deck ideas that embody the ideals of House Dimir. This won't be a comprehensive list, obviously, but my goal is to capture the breadth of ways Dimir decks can go. If you have other concoctions than those I've listed here, feel free to post them on the Message Boards.

Reanimator

Probably the most natural combination of Blue and Black is creature reanimation. Why? Because Black contains most of the good reanimation cards like Zombify, Footsteps of the Goryo, Goryo's Vengeance, and Vigor Mortis, whilst Blue contains good draw-n-dump cards like Ideas Unbound, Compulsive Research, and Sift. Add some self-discard fatties like Grozoth, maybe a Gifts Ungiven or two if you have them, then pepper with every scary, monstrously-huge creature you own. Voila! Reanimator Soufflé! This is a deck that can quickly become budget unfriendly, but the beauty of reanimator is that the core cards are non-rare while the "beef" that you're reanimating can include whatever you think is cool (or can afford). The one rare card that feels like a staple here is Dimir Doppelganger, but even that isn't a card that will break your bank to bits.

Spirits

Thief of Hope and Devouring Greed are just sitting there, innocently whistling and waiting for deckbuilders to abuse them. Ravnica has brought new Spirits into the fold like Dimir Infiltrator, Keening Banshee, Drift of Phantasms, and, of course, Dimir Cutpurse. These are juicy additions to an approach that already had Wicked Akuba,Callow Jushi, Ghost-Lit Stalker, Shape Stealer, Dancing Scimitar, Demons, Zuberas, Onna, soulshift, Death Denied, Consuming Vortex, and Swallowing Plague. There were already a lot of different ways to make a Black/Blue Spirits deck, and Ravnica has only added to the options.

Ninja

Another Kamigawa goodie that's been given new life is Ninjas. Nate Heiss left us with a good starting point for making a Blue/Black Ninja deck, but House Dimir has found new ways to be sneaky. Dimir Infiltrator and Keening Banshee are the two best new ninjutsu enablers, but cards like Last Gasp, Remand, and Peel From Reality can really push the deck into territory that would make any order of thieves and assassins proud.

Footsteps Revisited

I have two things to say about Followed Footsteps as they relate to House Dimir. First, since my last three articles of 2005 focused on Dimir Footsteps, now is as good a time as any to discuss the suggested deck names on the Boards and pick the one I liked best. As always, you all came up with a bunch of good puns and clever names. My favorites were:

5. Identity Theft (McDugan)
4. Dimir Toy Box (valyn5)
3. Same Difference (phil_standen)
2. Mighty Brontosaurus (FromRightField)

That last one you may have to read the Boards to figure out, but it's a very clever reference to The Police. My favorite name of the lot, though, came from smartazz999. I like the hint at transmute in the name, the whiff of Ninja and unblockability, and the connotation that the deck is about Followed Footsteps without being totally about Followed Footsteps. It's also just darned catchy.

Deck, I dub thee...

The second thing I want to say here is that I took some of the complaints that my most recent deck wasn't really focused on Followed Footsteps to heart. In the days following my third article, I set aside the idea of a toolbox deck and instead tried to hammer home a deck whose primary aim was to get Followed Footsteps rolling for the win. Here is the attempt at my tinkering, which is a more "pure" Footsteps deck for those who wanted such a thing:

Let me tell anyone making a dedicated Followed Footsteps deck--Exhaustion is about the spiffiest card in Standard for such a strategy. In fact, my month with House Dimir has given me a newfound respect for Exhaustion in general.

Megrim

Doesn't every deckbuilder decide to make a Megrim-discard deck sometime early in his or her career? Megrim is still in the Core Set, and it just so happens that a lot of Dimir cards enable it to be successful. Aside from the usual discard like Blackmail and Distress, we have Consult the Necrosages and Perplex (which can also transmute to find Megrim). Clutch of the Undercity seems cater-made for a discard strategy, as does Drift of Phantasms (another transmute-for-Megrim card) and Remand. Add Ravenous Rats and Peel from Reality if you're feeling frisky. I'm not sure it's a deck that will win you a lot of friends, but it sure is a fun deck to think about building.

Circu, Dimir Lobotomist

Speaking of fun, Circu, Dimir Lobotomist is about as close as we've gotten to Bazaar of Wonders since, well, Bazaar of Wonders. The best thing about Circu, of course, is that he only prevents your opponents from playing spells. Add a bunch of card-drawing, a bunch of bounce, some countermagic to protect your key card, maybe some tutors a la Clutch of the Undercity to find your key card, and let the library oppression begin.

Hunted Phantasm

Most Hunted Horror decks I've seen have been Black/Red to use cards like Volcanic Hammer and Yamabushi's Flame to kill off those annoying Centaurs. I think you can make a Black/Blue Horror deck with bounce for those tokens, but I haven't seen one online yet. Instead, it seems to me that if House Dimir has embraced a Hunted creature, that creature is Hunted Phantasm. Folks have apparently discovered the fun of the Phantasm in combination with Night of Soul's Betrayal and/or Hideous Laughter. Hex isn't a totally unreasonable card in such a deck either. Drift of Phantasms, Perplex, and Clutch of the Undercity once again play double-duty of being useful spells as well as tutoring for your key cards.

Mindleech Mass

I'll admit that the first Mindleech Mass deck idea I had was Blue/Green, with the idea to use Polymorph on a token with the Mass as the only creature in my deck. What I now realize, though, is that all of the tools are there for an "honest" Black/Blue Mindleech Mass deck. Remand, Boomerang, Clutch of the Undercity, and card-drawers that can target any player like Consult the Necrosages, Compulsive Research, and Mikokoro, Center of the Sea all provide support for a Mass deck. If stalling, hoarding mana, and casting Mindleech Mass isn't your thing, you can always go for the Compulsive Research-Zombify route.

Fun With Colors

Finally, as I said during my budget review of the Selesnya Conclave, I'm not convinced that a deck need be Blue/Black to embody House Dimir's ideals. I can easily envision a Monoblue Ninja deck that feels very Dimir-ish, for example, or a Monoblack milling deck that uses things like Dimir Machinations and Neverending Torment. I've already talked about a deck that could add Green to its Blue/Black skeleton in order to fuel a big Psychic Drain or cast Szadek. Just as I don't think every Blue/Black deck is necessarily a Dimir deck, I don't think every Dimir deck is both Black and Blue. This is partly a semantic point, but since I'm basing an article using the guild as a platform for inspiration, it's an important point to make. Be House Dimir, then let your creativity wander free.

As I continue to tie up loose ends from 2005, here's a question for you:

 Which recent BOAB deck is your favorite?  
Soul Train (v.1.6)
Thief of Time (v.2.3)
Dead World (v.1.6)
Empire Maker (v.1.6)
Muted Footsteps (v.1.5)

Think hard and have fun,

-jms

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