This is the second part of my view on how to draft Dimir; you can read the first part here.
To get the right mix of cards, you should know when to expect cards that can fill in the functions that I described previously. For example, you don't want too few creatures and too many card-drawing spells, and when you haven't thought of what you'll be able to pick up in later picks, this could easily happen. First, I'll show you my views on what each deck should consist of. Remember – it's just an indication:
Control (Milling Strategy):
2 mill-effects, preferably reusable
4 removal spells
12 creatures, preferably good defenders
4 card-advantage effects
1 Lurking Informant!
5 removal spells and tricks
14 creatures, both evasive attackers and good defenders
3 card-advantage effects
1 Lurking Informant!
Every Dimir deck should have one Lurking Informant, and maybe some cards that Transmute for it, as this guy can help you immensely in situations in which you're both out of gas (or you're in a creature stall). Don't be alarmed when you don't have these numbers, it's just an indication of what my preferred deck set-up looks like. There are many cards that have multiple functions, too, and when the card quality in your deck is above average you don't need many card-advantage spells.
How high certain cards are picked relies greatly on the quality of the card, but it's true that some types of cards are harder to get than others. Removal spells are generally high picks and you should keep in mind that you often have to pick a removal spell over another important card – even if you only need one more removal spell, but three more cards with the function that you're passing up. While many people realize they should usually pick their removal spells higher than other cards, as this has been the same for many draft formats now, for the other types of cards this has been quite different throughout the draft formats. I think this is something that many people overlook. Your goal is to draft a deck; a combination of cards that work well together, not to draft the 45 best cards in your color.
For this draft format, these are a few things that I noticed concerning the Dimir guild:
Combat tricks are picked very late.
Counterspells are rare but they go late.
There are many mana fixers so you'll see them late.
Most card-drawing spells are quite late picks.
You need to pick your good offensive evasion creatures quickly. Otherwise you'll end up playing too many offensive creatures without evasion.
It's hard to say how late millstone-effects go, as there isn't always someone drafting that deck.
Apart from Stinkweed Imp, most defensive creatures go late.
Of course, this could be very different for the drafts you're in; these are based upon my experiences on Magic Online and in our weekly draft in Amsterdam (usually composed of PT regulars).
There are usually around three players per table drafting Dimir. If you can communicate properly with these players, you can all have a deck containing cards that work well together for the same game plan. It's usually easy to tell if you should be picking up Control cards or Beatdown cards by examining later picks in the first pack. Sometimes you're the one (rather than one of your fellow Dimir-drafters) having to make the decision, when two cards are passed that fit in opposing strategies. Remember what you're being passed, and what you're passing, and make a final decision based on that. Don't stick to a single card that is better than the many other cards you drafted for the opposing game plan, as it may be a fluke. Don't be afraid to give up few cards to prevent you from getting stuck in the middle of the guild (neither Beatdown nor Control); this is the last thing you want to happen.
When you're about to first-pick a Dimir card, remember what cards in your Guild might come back. This may give you information about the strategy of the other Dimir drafters at the table. For example, if Vedalken Entrancer comes back from a pack that also contained Roofstalker Wight, it could be a hint for you to specialize in milling. I try to pick the Black removal spells in the first few picks, not only to ensure that I have enough of them, but also to prevent the people around you from moving into Black, and also so I don't commit early to either of Dimir's strategies. Other commons that I like to pick early in the first pack are Stinkweed Imp, Dimir House Guard and Compulsive Research. All three can set up a solid base that keeps you open for whatever comes.
When you've settled into either Beatdown or Control, the draft will quickly show you if it's worked out or not. The rounding-out of the packs, by which I mean around picks 6-12 (depending on the general quality of the packs in the draft) will make or break your deck. The high-rated cards should now all be out of the packs and now you'll see cards such as Vedalken Entrancers, Tidewater Minions and Drift of Phantasms – or Roofstalker Wight, Peel from Reality and Vedalken Dismisser – all of which are significantly better for you when they fit into your strategy. I always have the feeling that the quality of your deck depends more on these later picks than on your first.
I don't usually discuss the rares of a color combination the same way I discuss the commons and uncommons, because I don't have enough experience with the rares to say something about them with enough certainty. It's fun to do anyway, and if you recognize similarities with your thoughts on a rare it could mean that it's genuine. So here are my thoughts on the rares:
Bombs: Cerulean Sphinx, Hex, Glimpse the Unthinkable, Dream Leash
Hex and Dream Leash are great in both types of the Guild – just try them – but Cerulean Sphinx and Glimpse the Unthinkable require a little more explanation. Unless it's already set in stone that you're Dimir Aggro, you should pick the Glimpse. With Glimpse in your deck, you only need a few other milling spells and Glimpse will finish the job for you; it's like your opponent is starting the game on twelve life. Glimpse is a very consistent game plan because you'll usually have access to some spells that can Transmute for it. Dimir Infiltrator is a rather late pick, and I don't mind playing Shred Memory if it can fetch me a Glimpse: it's simply that good in the Control deck. In my experience with the deck, games aren't usually a race as you're just trying to defend. When you have Glimpse, you have the tools to win a race when required.
Cerulean Sphinx is another card that can win the game single-handedly, just like Moroii. While Moroii may be better in the Beatdown deck, Cerulean Sphinx is infinitely better than it in the Control deck, for two reasons: there is no dangerous disadvantage (losing the life per turn), and the ability is actually useful. With such long games and some card draw and manipulation, it's not unlikely to draw into it again after shuffling it back. I'm not saying you should wait until you can keep open a Blue mana to play it; it's just an added benefit on a four-turn clock for the opponent.
Great Cards: Followed Footsteps, Helldozer, Dimir Cutpurse, Dimir Doppelganger, Bloodletter Quill, Gleancrawler
These are all excellent cards in the right deck, competing with the best of commons for quality; each of them can be a bomb at the right time. Followed Footsteps can be quite a risky card: if you play it on your opponent's creature you can't really kill (or easily block) it, but if you play it on one of your own men you're exposed to a two-for-one removal spell. This is the reason why you should sometimes wait until your opponent is out of gas before you play it; the card is typically worthwhile only if the effect lasts for at least two turns.
I've had Dimir Doppelganger quite a few times, in both decks of the Guild, and it's been great for me every time. It shines in the Control deck because of its synergy with milling effects.
Another card that always does its job as a late-game engine is Bloodletter Quill: it looks like Honden of the Seeing Winds, and I would rate it highly. Remember that you don't have to lose life; you can respond to your own draw-a-card effect by removing the Blood counter.
Helldozer, Gleancrawler and Dimir Cutpurse are all great in the Beatdown deck, and are a reason to play Flight of Fancy. You need a single activation of the Cutpurse to make it worth the trouble. Even if you don't get it, it probably means your opponent kept creatures back which otherwise would have participated in the damage race.
Good Cards: Bottled Cloister, Moonlight Bargain, Szadek Lord of Secrets
Bottled Cloister is another powerful and risky card, but your opponent probably won't have a way to deal with it in the first game. For games two and three, it could be right to board it out if you can recall having seen something like Sundering Vitae or Seed Spark in the draft… unless you think your chances are not that good anyway, and you're willing to take the risk of losing your hand to get an extra draw each turn.
The quality of Moonlight Bargain depends entirely on your deck: if you have something really good to look for, it's golden.
Szadek is expensive, but can turn around a game completely – that's why some decks need it. If you think your deck is good and has enough big spells for the late game, you could opt not to run it… but so far I've run it in every deck that had access to it.
Playable Cards: Woebringer Demon, Circu, Dimir Lobotomist, Sunforger, Copy Enchantment, Spawnbroker, Tunnel Vision, Necroplasm, Mindleech Mass, Plague Boiler
Woebringer Demon is better than most people give it credit for; at its worst, your opponent has to sacrifice a creature and is probably not attacking into your 4/4 Flying guy. I didn't always maindeck it, but it's a good sideboard card against decks without many creatures.
I have not yet drafted a deck with Circu, and it seems like a bad version of Vedalken Entrancer. It doesn't mill as many cards, and I think you'll prefer a 1/4 to a 2/3 most days.
I've never been a fan of Plague Boiler and never will be. When you don't have lots of Black and Green mana available, it's a very awkward card to have in play. You don't want to commit more to the board, but you're giving your opponent time to deal lots of damage. If you're not being attacked, it means that you probably have about as many creatures as your opponent and you're just trading your cards.
Copy Enchantment is a typical sideboard card, as is Necroplasm. Copy Enchantment comes in when your opponent has enough good targets (Galvanic Arc and Faith's Fetters, but not Fists of Ironwood), and Necroplasm shines against token-decks.
Sunforger can be anywhere from great to horrible, highly depending on the flow of the game. If you manage to keep up with your opponent, it turns any evasion creature (or wall) you have into a monster. This compensates for its slowness, but its speed can obviously easily.
In a Dimir Aggro deck that didn't quite work out, Spawnbroker can be a pretty good card. Combined with some tricks that allow you to reuse it, such as Mark of Eviction or Peel from Reality, and some Sadistic Augermages and Mortipedes to offer in the trade, it can be great… but when your deck is decent, you won't have many creatures you could upgrade. It has another function: it can take care of smaller annoying creatures, such as Sandsower or Selesnya Evangel. I wouldn't always maindeck the card, but many Selesnya decks have very good targets for it.
While not as powerful as Szadek, Mindleech Mass is a card that some decks need in order to have a way to win in the late-game. The added effect isn't very useful for anything other than forcing out your opponent's remaining tricks. He won't have many spells left when you play the Mass, but sometimes you just need a little bit of fat. Comparable cards are Grozoth and Nullstone Gargoyle… but only when you're really desperate.
Very Rarely Playable: Grozoth, Hunted Phantasm, Hunter Horror, Sins of the Past, Nullstone Gargoyle, Eye of the Storm, Blood Funnel, Dark Confidant, Empty the Catacombs, Cloudstone Curio, Pariah's Shield, Crown of Convergence, Shadow of Doubt
These cards require masterful combos and I suggest you leave them to Rogier Maaten… he's recently become known for using each card and card interaction in a format.
The Dimir Guild has two sides: Mill-Control or regular Beatdown. Both of these strategies are fine, although I personally prefer the Beatdown deck. Anything in between the two game-plans is suboptimal. The last thing you want to happen is to get stuck in the middle: you can prevent that by rating cards that are good in both decks highly at the start of the draft, higher than cards that lean towards a particular game-plan. Commit to a side of the Guild later in the draft. This is not always possible, and in these cases it could be right to stick to the same strategy to ensure you're sending out consistent signals to the other Dimir drafters… but if you realize early that a switch will be fine, don't be afraid to give up a few of your previous picks to set yourself in the right strategy for the remainder of the draft.
That's all for this Guild. I'd hoped to include a draft walkthrough, but I didn't have the time as I'm busy preparing for my final exams… I'm glad I got this article finished before it lost its relevance, and I hope that it's provided you with some new insights.
Good luck at whatever tournament you're attending!