Magic History: Dissension

Magic Untapped takes a look back at the set Dissension.

Wizards of the Coast's popular and long-standing collectible card game, Magic: The Gathering, has been out since 1993.  That stated, it's nice to look back at older sets to reminisce and see just how much the game has changed over the years.

In this video, we look back at Dissension, the final set in Magic: The Gathering's original Ravnica block.  And we're doing it with special guest Mark Rosewater, Head Designer for the game.

Check it out:

Video Transcript:

<MARO Soundbite>

Closing out the original Ravnica block is Dissension.

Release in May of 2006, the set utilized a three-pronged set symbol similar to its predecessor, Guildpact, though this time around the symbol is broken into pieces, meant to symbolize the disintegration of the plane’s peace-keeping Guildpact spell.

The story can be enjoyed by reading the novel Dissension by Cory J. Herndon (the Cult of Rakdos gives it two claws up!)

Of course, there’s also our story summary, which can be enjoyed simply by watching this video.

Evern Capobar, a master thief, is the job.  He, along with some shadewalkers in for support, infiltrate the ruins of Cauldron, the Izzet laboratory in Ravnica’s Utvara zone.  Sneaking past a group of nephilim who are feasting on a partially crushed dragon egg, they use a syringe and steal some cerebral fluid from the stillborn dragon inside, then make their escape.

Elsewhere in the zone, the Izzet goblin Crix (now named Crixzix due to her rise in rank to Master Engineer) is monitoring the area’s five nephilim as they grow in size and begin to destroy the Utvara township.  She mentally contacts her guild’s parun, Niv-Mizzet, and informs the enlightened dragon of what she’s seeing.

Niv shows up on scene and kills two of the nephilim, but departs before dealing with the other three, citing boredom with the whole ordeal.  Crixzix’s faith in the Izzet parun is shaken.

From the shadows, a shadowy shapeshifter watches this all unfold.

In Ravnica’s Old Rav district, Fonn and her Wojek partner are looking into the murder of an old lady and her rare bird of paradise.  As they investigate, they discover that the area is town has become overrun with rats, which is typically a sign of the Cult of Rakdos’ influence.  Fonn, however, finds she needs to excuse herself for the time being as she has to tend to a prior engagement.

That engagement turns out to involve Jarad, the Golgari guildmaster, who is teaching his son, Muc Zunich, how to hunt.  Fonn, Jarad’s ex-wife, picks Myc up to bring him along with her on a Selesnyan scouting mission.  While on the training mission, the scouts are ambushed and captured by Rakdos cultists.  Fonn avoids capture, though, and gets left behind.

She contacts her ex-husband and the two of them (along with some Golgari backup) rush to the Rakdos guildhall, Rix Maadi, to get their son back.

Meanwhile, Teysa Karlov is at the Azorius headquarters of Prahv, having been requested by one of the inmates there to be her personal Advokist.  This inmate turns out to be Feather, the Boros angelic soldier who had assisted the late Wojek lieutenant Argus Kos many years ago.  Recently, Feather had turned herself in and was facing charges of desertion, striking a superior, oathbreaking, failure to attend to her duties, and more.

Speaking of Argus Kos, the deceased soldier’s spirit is now a spectral guard outside of the Azorius Senate.  He is on duty as Feather, his friend during his mortal life, is brought up the stairs.  He thinks back to when he saw her flying towards him in the moment before his death.

She took the stand before Grand Arbiter Agustin IV, the current Living Saint of the Selesnya, and the commander-general of the Wojek.  The tribunal ask her where the rest of the angels are.  She informs them that they are all deceased.

She then elaborates, telling the three that Agyrem, the city of ghosts, is more than just a story as it actually exists and, while it typically exists on the outskirts of their word in a sort of invisible state, it had become anchored to Ravnica’s Utvara zone due to the space rift that had formed many decades prior thanks to the Izzet and Orzhov.

Razia, the Boros parun, wanted to explore this now-reachable Agyrem and had ordered the Parhelion, the flying fortress that is home to Boros’ legion of angelic soldiers, into it.  Once there, the angels were attacked by the multitude of ghosts trapped within, led by the spirit of the deceased Dimir guildmaster, the vampire Szadek.

Szadek slayed Razia, but before she dies she instructed Feather to find a way out and warn the Grand Arbiter about the ghastly threat.  Feather would then spend the next ten years trying to find a way out of the city of ghosts before an opening appears thanks to the Izzet magelord, Zomaj Hauc, tapping into its energy to fuel his ill-fated dragon rebirth experiment. 

After attending the funeral of her dear friend, Argus Kos, she had attempted to make her way back into Agyrem to ensure that the ghost of Szadek hadn’t also escaped as she had, but the angel was repelled by a legion of ghosts.  She managed another escape and flew directly to Prahv to turn herself in, knowing that a tribunal would be the quickest way to gain the audience of the Grand Arbiter and get her message out to him and Ravnica’s other guild leaders.

Upon receiving this new wealth of information, Feather is freed.  The Grand Arbitor sends for the spectral Kos and pairs him with an Azorious lawmage.  He tells that the only reason the underhanded Dimir and chaotic Rakdos were allowed in the guildpact in the first place was to strengthen its magic through opposition.

Apparently, when the then-mortal Lieutenant Kos broke the guildpact by arresting Szadek, a paradox was created.  Apparently, when the pact was created some 10,000 prior, the vampire was charged with the responsibility of constantly testing it and trying to break it in order to keep its bonds strong, but that he could never be arrested for it because nobody else would be able to fulfill that purpose.  Likewise for the Rakdos, as their responsibility is to promote and undertake chaos so that the other guilds can unite towards promoting order.

Seeing as Szadzek had let his guard down and more-or-less allowed Kos to arrest him (thus creating said paradox), it was Kos’ duty in death to destroy the vampire completely.

While the events are happening inside of Prahv, other things are occurring outside of walls as well:  the Parhelion has reappeared and is on a collision course with the guildhall!  A Boros skyknight witnesses this and sends word to Prahv that the senate and anyone else at the guildhall must evacuate.

The skyknight flies to and boards the Parhelion and finds a dead angel on the flying fortress’ deck.  She heads further into the structure and finds a still-alive Razia.  She informs her how she can keep the Parhelion afloat, but it’s too late.  The Parhelion crashes into Prahv.

Back in the Utvara township, Crixzix rescues the Orzhov restauranteur, Pivlic, from his tavern just in time for it to be crushed by the rampaging nephilim.  He sends the imp into the main city to warn the zone’s baroness, Teysa, of the impending threat as the remaining nephilim begin also heading in that direction.

Back in the Rakdos guildhall, Myc and the other scout trainees are given to Lyzolda, the Blood Witch and acting head of the Cult of Rakdos.  She draws blood from Myc, as his blood is the same as his guildmaster father, Jarad’s, and combines it with some of the stolen dragon fluid that had found its way to her while it was being delivered to its actual destination.

She uses this gruesome cocktail to raise and form a mental link with Rakdos, the slumbering demonic parun and actual guildmaster of his namesake guild.  As the ritual is being performed, however, Myc’s parents, Fonn and Jarad, show up and interrupt the proceedings.  This was enough to keep Lyzolda from forming a link with Rakdos as the now-awakened demon had instead, due to the interruption, linked with the mind of Myc instead.

Overwhelmed by Rakdos’ bloodlust, he accompanies the demon as the two head out of Old Rav and into the main city, destroying everything in their path (including an invading nephilim) and begins to attack the Selesnyan city-tree of Vitu-Ghazi.

Back at a partially-destroyed Prahv, Pilvic arrives and informs Teysa about the nephilim just in time for the enormous beasts to arrive on scene.  Grand Arbiter Augustin IV then sends Pilvic and the spectral Kos (along with the lawmage with whom he’s linked) to Novijen, the Simic headquarters, where they believe Szadek to be housed.  Once there, Kos’ spirit jumps hosts and links with a Simic guard while Pivlic and the lawmage stay behind.

Infiltrating the guildhall, Kos manages to get very near both Svogthir, the late Golgari parun who had (in death) taken control of the mind and body of his predecessor, Savra.  While in their company, Vig tells of their greatest creation, an entity known simply as “Experiment Kraj” that was created (in part) by the ancient draconic fluid he had contracted some thieves to retrieve, and how the Simic will use it to conquer all of Ravnica with Vig ruling the surface and Svogthir ruling the undercity.

Vig then notices the evesdropper in the room and has the body Kos is inhabiting thrown out of the window.  Kos’ spirit, however, manages to jump hosts once again, this time inhabiting Savra’s animated corpse, managing to seize control of it from Svogthir.

Kos, acting the part of the Scogthir-controlled Savra, plays along with Vig’s plans and helps him get Experiment Kraj up an running, then kills the Simic guildmaster, allowing Kraj to run rampant inside of the guildhall.  Kos makes his escape and jumps hosts back to the Azorius lawmage he was linked to originally, Savra’s animated corpse collapsing immediately and taking Svogthir along with it.

Meanwhile, Fonn and Jarad manage to free the remaining Selesyan scouts and after Rakdos and Myc.  While in pursuit, the group encounters and manages to slay the remaining two nephilim, but Lyzolda manages to kill Jarad as well.

Now using the blood of an actual guildmaster (rather than the offspring of one), the Blood Witch severs the mental tie between Rakdos and Myc, taking control of the giant demon for herself.  That’s when Kraj bursts onto the scene, having absorbed the lifeforce of all of the Simic in the guildhall and broken through its walls.  Seeing Rakdos as the strongest force present, it attempts to absorb the demon’s lifeforce as well, only to fail and fall dormant instead.

Rakdos doesn’t go uninjured from the attack, however, and the wounds suffered by the demon are, in turn, transferred to Lyzolda.  The Blood Witch’s fellow cultists witness this and see it as a sign of weakness.  They turn on Lyzolda, who collapses to the ground, eating her alive.

Witnessing all of the chaos and violence from atop Vitu-Ghazi, the Selesnyan Living Saint cracks and releases the guild’s hidden army of Quietmen (which had been made illegal many years before) to rip apart both Rakdos and the dormant Kraj.

Back at Prahv, Grand Arbiter Augustin IV summons the senate and uses mental tricks to convince Feather and Teysa to go running into the wreckage of the Parhelion in search of Razia’s body, whereupon they are captured by Szadek and his shapeshifters.

With Feather and Teysa gone and only a handful of Azorius senators present, the Grand Arbitor declares martial law and supreme Azorius rule of all of Ravnica with intent to force an involuntary draft of not just the citizens of the plane-wide city, but of the ghosts within Agyrem as well.

This is when Kos, who had been rounded up by an imposter Feather along with Fonn, Myc, and the surviving Selesnyan scouts, arrives back at Prahv.

While Augustin uses his mental magic to make the senators see and believe what he wants them to see, he reveals the truth of it all to the spectral Kos.

While living, Kos did, in fact, break the Guildpact, however it was Augustin who actually did the killing, easily finishing Szadek off while in the Azorious dungeon awaiting trial and taking control of him.  It was Augustin who sent Szadek to rally the ghosts within Agyrem against the Boros Legion’s angelic army.  And it was always Augustin’s intent that Kos would slay Mormir Vig, thus taking out the head of another of Ravnica’s guilds as the Grand Arbiter gets closer to realizing his plan of remaking Ravnica into a place where everybody follows Azorius law and Azorius law alone.

Upon this private confession, Kos and crew are herded into the ruined Parhelion as well.  There, he is reunited with Feather and Teysa, as well as the Boros skyknight who first saw the flying fortress appear above the Azorius guildhall, all of whom are being held captive by the imposter Razia and Szadek’s ghost.  These new arrivals, however, provided enough manpower for all to overcome their captors and Kos manages to capture Szadek’s spirit in a standard-issue Wojek ghost-grounding device.

The newly-liberated allies then set the Parhelion’s engines to explode, hoping the blast will destroy the Grand Arbitor and put an end to his well-laid plans before high-tailing out of the fallen fortress.

As they depart, they find the Senate in chaos and under attack from Selesnyan Quietmen.  Seeing Augustin, Kos hurls his grounder at the Grand Arbitor’s feet.  The impact frees the ghost Szadek from his prison who, among realizing his killer and controller is standing before him, consumes his soul just as the Parhelion’s explosion obliterates everyone and everything in the vicinity.

Two years later, Azorius has a new guildmaster who, on behalf of Feather (who, herself, has become the new Boros guildmaster), manages to bring Kos back.  While still a spirit, this time the late Wojek lieutenant has a somewhat-corporeal body so he no longer needs to be inhabiting that of another.

A new pact is also signed between Ravnica’s ten guilds – one that is not dependent on magic to be enforced.

The schism in Utvara fades from existence and the floating ghost city of Agyrem is overlaid upon Ravnica, creating a new ghost quarter within the city.

The ghost of Szadek, however, is still at large and lurking somewhere within Agyrem.  Kos, always the policeman (even in death), accepts a new appointment and becomes the quarter’s Boros commander.

Of course, the story of Dissension doesn’t end here as there’s much more to talk about in terms of the set and cards themselves.

<MARO Soundbite>

The 180-card Dissension continued the overall Ravnica block themes of two-color multicolor and use of the new hybrid mana, adding the final three guilds absent from the first two combined sets: The white/blue Azorius Senate <MARO soundbite>, red/black Cult of Rakdos <MARO soundbite>, and blue/green Simic Combine <MARO soundbite>.

And, as with the block’s previous two sets (Ravnica: City of Guilds and Guildpact), Dissension’s guilds bring with them their own unique mechanics:
•    Forecast for Azorius, which is an activated ability that can be played from one’s hand during their upkeep;
•    Hellbent for Rakdos, which can do many different things, but if (and only if) a player has no cards in hand, and;
•    Graft for Simic, which allows players to move +1/+1 counters amongst their creatures.

The set also introduces to the block split cards, which had not been seen since the Invasion block.  The split cards, by the way, owe their conception from two silver bordered sets: Unglued and its unpublished follow-up, Unglued 2: The Obligatory Sequel.

<MARO soundbite>

The set featured ten split cards – one for each guild.  Allied color guilds received uncommon split cards, whereas enemy colored guilds are represented on rares.  As for why these split cards all appear in this final set of the original Ravnica block as opposed to being present all throughout, well, there’s a very good reason.

<MARO soundbite>

Dissension (and, really, the Ravnica block as a whole) was highlighted during the 2006 Magic: The Gathering pro tour season as Pro Tour – Prague occurred the very same weekend as the set’s release.  As such, the format was Ravnica block booster draft.

In the event’s final, Takyua Osawa of Japan defeated Germany’s Aaron Brackmann and took home $40,000 in prize money.

While only a handful of Dissension cards made it into Osawa’s final deck, the set does have a number of notable cards:
•    Demonfire, a rather popular “X” damage spell until it was proved obsolete by the printing of Banefire in Conflux;
•    Research // Development, thanks to its “wishboard” accessibility;
•    Simic Sky Swallower, a heavy-hitting finisher;
•    The efficient counterspell, Spell Snare;
•    Transguild Courier, the first artifact card to not only have a color, but also the first to have all five of the game’s colors as well;
•    Trygon Predator, an anti-artifact/enchantment card that sometimes sees sideboard play;
•    Rakdos Auguermage, Terry Soh’s Magic: The Gathering Invitational card, and (of course);
•    Dissension’s three shock lands: Blood Crypt, Breeding Pool, and Hallowed Fountain.

The set also had three reprints:
•    Enchantments Seal of Doom and Seal of Fire, both of which were first printed in Nemesis, and;
•    Thrive, a card from Prophecy that fits in quite well with the Simic’s graft ability.

And, finally, the set featured a foil alternate art Avatar of Discord as its pre-release promo, as well as the Azorius Guildmage card as its release promo.

So, is Dissension one of your favorite Magic: The Gathering sets?  If so, let us know in the comment section.   Also, Magic Untapped would like to give a giant “thanks” to Mark Rosewater for sharing with us his stories and insight about the original Ravnica block as a whole.

Please remember subscribe to Magic Untapped here on YouTube and toss a buck in our tip jar on Patreon.  Thank you for watching.

Barry White

Barry White is a longtime Magic: The Gathering player, having started in 1994 shortly before the release of 'Fallen Empires.' After graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno, he went on to a 15-year journalism career as a writer, reporter, and videographer for three different ABC affiliate newsrooms.