Why I still wouldn’t maindeck Dispel in RTR draft decks
…even though many other players seem to be convinced one should do so?
Well, obviously, just because I’m stubborn!
Or wait a minute, maybe I have actually good reasons for it? Let me explain:
I was never too happy in limited with cards which are both reactive and situational, even if they are really cheap. I remember well how disappointed I was even with Annul in Mirrodin limited, although I certainly always maindecked that one (I did sometimes side it out, though). See, in the first few turns, you really want to use up your mana fully to build up your board presence. You can, of course, hope that you will be able to gain tempo by saving a mana on your turn and then countering a spell your opponent pumps all his mana into. Then again, that means you will not be able to save your Annul for a larger threat which comes down in the endgame, but the greater danger is that your opponent might put down a good creature like Skyhunter Patrol or Fangren Hunter, pulling ahead because you held back, and then you cannot afford to keep Annul mana up again if you do not want to fall behind even further – and of course, that may mean that the very threatening artifact you’d loved to counter comes down on the next turn. You will also draw Annul a lot of times in the mid- or lategame when the threats you hoped to deal with using it are already on the board. In summary: If you want it to be flexible, it will slow you down; if you use it at the first opportunity, it is no longer flexible; and if you draw it at the wrong time, it reminds you how situational it is.
I guess I just have a different perspective than others. They look at the card in their hand and think “good, I still have a possible trump for later”. I look at it and conclude “I will not have the mana to use this on the next few turns; I probably have a useless card in my hand”.
It’s true that Dispel can potentially counter a lot in this environment – 27 common instants (versus only 9 sorceries) is quite a lot, and so are 14 uncommon instants. It’s also true that Dispel can be game-deciding if you manage to counter a removal played on a good creature of yours, or if it foils your opponent’s plan to turn a combat situation around with Swift Justice, Giant Growth or Common Bond. However, you need to note that these spells all have the important advantage that a player can plan ahead when to use them, and will usually be able to play them on his own turn, while the player wanting to react to them will have to do so after already having taken his turn and spent his mana.
But let us take a look at the decktypes in RTR draft, and how good Dispel is against each of those:
We find that Selesnya has the most strong instants at its disposal. The fast aggressive Selesnya deck will very likely run a few copies of Giant Growth and Common Bond, supplementing them with Swift Justice and Chrous of Might if necessary. The populate deck, on the other hand, is more likely to run defensive stuff like Avenging Arrow, Aerial Predation and Trostani’s Judgment, and of course Eyes in the Skies, Rootborn Defenses and Druid’s Deliverance.
Golgari, though, has few common instants it really wants. Giant Growth is still good here, but less important due to scavenge. Some builds will make use of Grisly Salvage, but that is hardly a great target for Dispel. Launch Party is useful in Golgari (especially with a couple of Gatecreeper Vine), but it’s not as strong here as in Rakdos and thus less likely to end up here.
Rakdos is another story: There’s Annihilating Fire, Auger Spree and Launch Party, and some players will still put Explosive Impact in those decks. Also, faster builds will often run Dynacharge.
Izzet, on the other hand, certainly treasures Annihilating Fire and is a better deck type to use Explosive Impact in, but that’s almost about it. There’s nine more common instants in this color combination, and each of those can and does show up in Izzet decks, but none of them are high profile enough to worry about. More importantly, nearly all of them get the weaker the more the Izzet deck is under pressure – but a Dispel in your opening hand impedes your ability to put up pressure.
Azorius, finally, loves to run Dramatic Rescue and likes Swift Justice when it’s fast, and Trostani’s Judgment when it’s more lategame-oriented. You might also encounter Avenging Arrow and Eyes in the Skies, as well as a random Cancel or Dispel.
See, against the average or typical specimen of most of these deck types I do not want a narrow card like Dispel. Neither Golgari, nor Izzet, nor Azorius are likely to reach critical mass of important instants for this. Also, putting those decks on the defense and forcing them to use their instants defensively is usually a better plan than slowing myself down and hoping to catch them at just the right moment. I might side Dispel in under certain circumstances, but it’s unlikely.
That leaves two guilds (and multicolor decks, which I will address in a moment): Rakdos and Selesnya. Of course, there is no deck type against which you can less afford to keep mana open and draw cards you cannot play actively than Rakdos! Dramatic Rescue, although twice as expensive, is much more useful here, since you can decide when to use it and don’t need to keep mana open for it.
And much of the same is true for Selesnya Aggro. You cannot afford to fall behind on the board against it, and your opponent’s instants are better than yours because he gets to use them on his turn. Still, I will sideboard Dispel in against both Rakdos and Selesnya if I guess that the density of their instants is high – but only if I believe I can take out something which isn’t too useful in that matchup: If I’m overall happy with my deck, I will leave the situational card where it belongs.
Selesnya populate, however, is an entirely different story! Not only is the number of instants I can expect the highest here: The populate deck is also usually not that blazingly fast, allowing you to position yourself in a way which allows you to keep Dispel mana open. Most importantly, though, the crucial instants of the populate deck are those your opponent will want to play on your turn, not his (Druid’s Deliverance, Rootborn Defenses, Eyes in the Skies)! That is, of course, just what pushes your Dispel (and other counters, although sadly not Essence Backlash) over the top. This is where you really want it.
Lastly, there are those multicolor decks which deviate enough from straight guild decks that they play significantly differently. Essentially, that means the defender-based green ramp deck and the Azorius-Izzet lategame deck. Against the green deck, you do not want Dispel at all (unless it is a populate-heavy version): You need to apply pressure, not play reactively, and you will not be able to counter strong lategame cards with it, which tend to be sorceries or creatures. Against the Raka control deck, however, Dispel is at its best, since that deck will run instants as tempo cards, as removal and as card draw, maybe even as countermagic, and its mana costs are rather high.
I’m not sure how deck types usually are distributed in a typical draft, but I would guess the following projection: One (aggressive) Rakdos deck, one fast Izzet deck, one tempo-based Azorius deck, one Izzet-Azorius lategame deck, one Selesnya aggro deck, one Selesnya populate deck, one aggressive Golgari deck and one Golgari-based ramp deck. This means there are three decks which are guaranteed to run blue mana and an additional two which might: Populate and Ramp. While populate might use Blue as a tertiary color, I wouldn’t put a situational card like Dispel in that third color – it’s unreliable enough as is. (Actually, I would against populate, because it’s THAT strong against that strategy – but I am the populate deck here!) As for ramp, I believe it is more likely to run Red than Blue (because it gets access to removal like Auger Spree and Explosive Impact, which it needs more than the blue lategame spells – its lategame is already strong), and anyway in ramp I need high card quality. Dispel wouldn’t make the cut, esepcially not in a splash color.
That leaves Izzet, Azorius and Raka. Raka, being three colors, once again has too high card quality to include Dispel, especially because it is itself one of the two deck types that card is really strong against. Izzet and Azorius, on the other hand, need to play a strong tempo game with enough creatures (especially at the low end of the curve), some removal and some enhancers or tempo cards. Pursuit of Flight, Dramatic Rescue, Knightly Valor or even Chemister’s Trick are just more attractive to fill the last slots here. I would play Dispel maindeck in these two deck types if I struggled for a 40th card before I put in stuff which doesn’t fit the deck’s focus, like mediocre 5-mana drops, for example, but if my draft went reasonably well, I’ll have better alternatives for my maindeck.