On the way down to GP Charlotte, I read an interesting article on PureMTGO, sent to me by my good buddy Carl Robichaud (@thoughtlaced), about drafting Gatecrash. For a few sets now, the writer Matthew Watkins has been writing his “Ars Arcanum” column about a Magic Online stats-based approach to analyzing Limited formats, specifically draft. And what he has figured out often runs somewhat counter to the popular wisdom.

For instance, in his analysis of Gatecrash, Watkins reveals that—at least in the first couple of weeks of the format—Boros was the most popular guild to draft, and Dimir the least. No surprises there; early on, everyone was talking about how Boros was the nuts and Dimir was the worst.

But what is surprising was the win percentages of these guilds: Boros came in third behind Orzhov (which everyone also knew was strong) and … Dimir?

That’s right. At least early in the format, Dimir decks (along with Orzhov) had about a 62% win rate. That’s excellent. Watkins then follows up these revelations with an in-depth guide on how to draft Dimir, and I highly recommend checking out his tips.

Of course I wanted to try it out myself. Up to that point, I’d really only drafted Boros, Orzhov, and a bit of Simic. So on Sunday, having scrubbed out of the GP Charlotte main event, I headed over to the convention hall to jam a couple drafts before my flight. I was committed to forcing Dimir—and force I did.

Here’s my first deck:

Screen Shot 2013-03-07 at 7.19.26 PM

I knew I was good to go when Lazav came around something like seventh pick. I forget what I first-picked, but I think it was a Cloudfin Raptor, or something else non-insane but key to the Dimir deck. During deckbuilding, I had a hard time deciding whether or not to include the Primordial, but ending up benching him. Just too expensive. Maybe that was wrong, though. At points during the following matches, I boarded out the Keymaster Rogue and/or the Midnight Recovery for the Corpse Blockade and Clinging Anemones.

Round one was against a dude playing Orzhov. I managed to kill everything that moved and eventually took over the game, with a couple of Last Thoughts stacked up on one Cloudfin Raptor that he just couldn’t answer. I was drawing three cards a turn and it felt insane and sweet. 1-0

Round two was against a guy playing Big Naya, including Borborygmos. Once I was able to kill some of his guys and stabilize, I was able to out-card-advantage him with my cipher spells. The Big Bad Guild Leader killed me one game, though. 2-0

The finals were against a fellow playing Simic—which is maybe Dimir’s worst matchup, or at least it felt that way here. I countered a key Urban Evolution with a Dimir Charm, but his growing army of unblockable and just-too-damn-big-to-block evolve guys overwhelmed me. 2-1

I was feeling pretty great about Dimir at this point. The deck was insanely fun and complicated to play, which I enjoy. One thing I should note is that I don’t think I ever copied anything with Lazav. I’m not sure he’s that great in Limited, although of course he’s not embarrassing as just a 3/3 hexproof for four. The Screechers, Raptors, and Sprites seemed absolutely integral to the deck, along with the Deathcult Rogue. The Keymaster Rogue seemed clunky (and too expensive) to me, and I often boarded him out. I just didn’t really want to return anyone else to my hand when he came into play; by that point, I usually had out a guy or two with something ciphered onto him.

So I ran it back and drafted again, first-picking a Nightveil Specter. Despite that good start, this draft didn’t feel quite as charmed as the first, and I noted with regret at the end that I didn’t have a single Last Thoughts or Hands of Binding in my pile, which are really key to the archetype. This one leaned a bit harder on mill, as well, with 2X Paranoid Delusions, 2X Undercity Informer, Duskmantle Guildmage, and Sage’s Row Denizen.

Here’s my second deck:

Screen Shot 2013-03-07 at 7.22.31 PM

Unfortunately, the gods were not with me in this draft, and I lost round one in two games to another Big Naya build, with YET ANOTHER Borborygmos. I also just hit a really bad runner of lands in one game, which happens. I was quickly out, and left the convention center to get a bite to eat and catch the bus to the Charlotte Airport. 0-1

Despite the bad taste in my mouth from that last draft, though, I wanted to try it again. So last Friday I attended my FIRST EVER FNM at good-old Twenty Sided Store.


For a while now, the official tagline for FNM—aka Friday Night Magic—has been “Here I Rule.” Think about that for a minute. What does it imply? It implies that EVERYWHERE ELSE YOU SUCK. Isn’t that a weird ad campaign? I mean, arguably it’s somewhat true—dudes and girls casting dork cards in high school aren’t exactly known to be at the top of the totem pole in terms of high-school popularity—but it’s just weird for a company to more or less come right out and acknowledge that.


I had a great time at FNM! Luckily I got put in a pod with a couple of dudes I know, including Rob “Birdlaw” (I have no idea why he has this nickname, but I like it) Kofsky and fellow HOTC staffer Zac “Durdle Magus” Clark.

I opened a pack containing I forget what, but it definitely had Dinrova Horror and I think a Wojek Halberdiers. Halberdiers is great, but Boros can often be overdrafted, and I wanted to give Dimir another shot. So I first-picked the Horror and never looked back, despite a disappointing pack two, where all my black and blue cards were getting cut from the left. I was also at this time passing a ton of good RW cards, but I didn’t want to jump into that archetype in the early to mid-pack two—although maybe I should have. But I stuck to my guns and was rewarded with a great third pack.

Here’s Dimir deck No. 3:

Screen Shot 2013-03-07 at 7.24.38 PM

In round one, I was paired against a nice kid named Daniel, who I’ve played before during a prerelease. He was on Simic, and dropped an early Master Biomancer, which gave me pause. Daniel proceeded to make some really scary and really big dudes, including casting Miming Slime when he had out a 5/5 Leyline Phantom with two +1/+1 counters on it. So Daniel got a freaking 9/9 due to the Biomancer’s ability. He even cast probably the best-ever Predator’s Rapport the following turn, gaining an incredible 18 life.

Fortunately, Daniel didn’t have much defense against fliers, allowing my Hands of Binding-ed-up Sprite and Last-Thoughts-ed Raptor to keep his dudes locked down and me drawing cards. Eventually I drew Stolen Identity, made two 9/9s, and the game was pretty academic from that point. I played it safe, though, as I had Psychic Strike in hand, and amassed an army of 9/9s:


My growing army of 9/9s.

I won this match. 1-0

Round two was against a dude named Elvis, who’s relatively new to the game (if memory serves). Real nice guy, but his deck didn’t quite show up for him. I don’t really remember what he was on, but I think it was Boros. In fact, it was, because at one point he was mana-flooded and I Psychic Struck a Court Street Denizen or something like that, and he milled Truefire Paladin and Sunhome Guildmage. 2-0

On to the finals, against Rob “Birdlaw” Kofsky, who I knew from the deckbuilding portion of the draft was the other Dimir drafter. Hence: THE DIMIRROR. Rob was three seats to my left, so that’s where all my black and blue cards went in pack two.

Rob’s a good guy and a friend, and a skilled player, so it’s always nice to play him. We chatted before the match about when we’d last played. I thought it was in the top eight of a GPT at 20SS, but he didn’t think so.

We had two really involved and drawn-out games. Rob was on more of a mill plan than I was, after first-picking a Consuming Aberration. (Seems good.) He also had a Call of the Nightwing and 2X Corpse Blockade, which caused me no end of trouble. In game one I stupidly cast Hands of Binding on one of his Nightwing tokens when he had out Corpse Blockade, and Rob snap-fizzled my spell by sac’ing his token to the 1/4. Whoops.

But that’s not the dumbest thing I did all night. In game two, we had an exceedingly complicated and stalled board state. But Rob, being at least partially on the mill plan, wasn’t so concerned. So I was thinking I need to kill Rob, and kill him quick. Rob had out a Keymaster Rogue which I had Agoraphobia’d earlier in the game, and I had a Dinrova Horror plus a Dimir Keyrune and a bunch of other stuff on my side of the board.

I draw Stolen Identity. “I need to kill Rob quickly,” I think. “What’s the quickest thing I can copy with Stolen Identity to do that?” I scan the table and decide to cast Stolen Identity targeting—THAT’S A KEY WORD RIGHT THERE, TARGETING!—Rob’s Keymaster Rogue … which of course he immediately sacrifices to one of his TWO Corpse Blockades. GGs, sir. Not long after, Rob got out his Consuming Aberration + Mortus Strider + Corpse Blockade combo, and I got milled the fuck out. 2-1

What the hell happened!

Here’s what happened. It’s simple. I get fixated on deciding what my own optimal personal line of play should be, and I don’t consider what my opponent could do—or even did in game one!—to fuck that up.

After the game, Rob and I discussed what if anything I could have done differently in G2, and we decided that I DEFINITELY should have cast Stolen Identity targeting my Dinrova Horror, ciphering onto my Keyrune. That would have been the game right there. (What’s even worse is that earlier in the day I had listened to the Limited Resources podcast, and they had specifically mentioned being careful with Stolen Identity, because it targets!) Making a Dinrova Horror and bouncing one of Rob’s permanents (not just creatures!) every turn for the rest of the game, and doing it twice on the first turn? GG from my end.

But I didn’t do that.

To my credit, I didn’t tilt, either, or get angry with myself. I’d had fun, and Rob’s a good guy. And, more importantly, I learned something. I was ALWAYS going to make that mistake. I could never not make that mistake—does that make sense? That misplay was out there waiting for me, and it was only a matter of time before I ran into it.

So now I’ve got that particular misplay out of the way. Mark Rosewater is fond of saying (and here I’m paraphrasing) that failures are more valuable than successess, because you learn way more from failures. That’s totally true, and I learned it at FNM. HERE I RULE (sort of).

Before I go, a few words on drafting Dimir. One, it’s really fun. I had a fantastic time with these few drafts. Two, don’t ever let a Basilica Screecher, Cloudfin Raptor, or Metropolis Sprite pass you by. These are your creature bread-and-butter (that sounded weird). On the spell side of things, don’t ever pass a Hands of Binding, a Last Thoughts, or a Grisly Spectacle. Try to pick up a Sage’s Row Denizen or two to turn on your Death’s Approaches. Balustrade Spies and Undercity Informers are welcome additions.

You need a way to pull ahead in terms of card advantage, and that’s why I think Last Thoughts is so important. If you can reliably once or twice beyond the initial casting + first cipher trigger (which you should be able to safely set up) cast a second or third copy of Last Thoughts (plus hopefully extorting) you’re going to be well on your way.

Keymaster Rogue, I think, is a trap. He’s awful with your Raptors, and I think he just costs too much (both in terms of mana and his ETB mostly-drawback, at least in Dimir) to be effective. Deathcult Rogues, on the other hand, are amazing, and super easy to cast if you are solidly UB. Never pass a Wight. That guy gets so big. Midnight Recovery is decent, but don’t be afraid to board it out if it’s too slow or if your opponent isn’t helping you stock your graveyard. A Psychic Strike is nice to have, as is a Dimir Charm and a Dimir Keyrune, as the latter is an excellent cipher target that can’t be Smote, Spectacled, or Mugged. Bane Alley Broker is slow but sweet; it feels so great to have a stack of cards under that thing that you can access in the late game (and she, too, can’t be Mugged). I’m not sure, though, how integral the Broker is to the core Dimir strategy—although, similar to Last Thoughts, she is a reliable source of quasi-card advantage.

Happy drafting! And try Dimir—you’ll like it.

23/17 is a Hipsters of the Coast column focused on Limited play—primarily draft and sealed, but also cubing, 2HG, and anything else we can come up with. The name refers to the “Golden Ratio” of a Limited deck: 23 spells and 17 lands.

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