Dual Shot - Masks

(Dual Shot | Art by Sara Winters)

Introduction

We find ourselves in a foundational place. The experiment’s inauguration. The ground isn’t exactly unbroken, but it is covered in a low fog, obscuring patches of what might’ve once been footprints.

This is Dual Shot, where we hide decks inside of other decks.


What We’re Up To

Now, before the obvious dub of "deck-ception" is applied, I would remind you that “inception” referred not to the nesting of dreams within dreams, but to the implantation of an idea. With any luck, I can do both. However, the layers don’t go limbo-deep. Just two steps:

Pick a deck, or rather, the outline of a deck. The theme, the archetype, the plan of attack. What kind of deck do you want?

Now pick another sort of deck. Got it? All set.

The plan is this: take a deck theme or archetype as it is typically built, and then see how much of it we can remove while keeping the identity of the deck intact. Then we fill that new space with a different deck’s strategy, presenting now as a subtheme.

No, not a Submersible, a subtheme. For instance, if you're building an Aura deck like it’s... well, an Aura deck... then it’s shaped like itself, isn’t it? It works more or less as intended, with all the expected variance of a game of EDH. Your opponents see you piloting Estrid, the Masked, and they can immediately begin to guess at which cards you’ll be playing and how you’ll be playing them.

If you go to the Themes page, you’ll find that Estrid makes for one of the most popular commanders within the Aura archetype, standing at the helm for 12.6% of submitted Aura decks. Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll find that she makes for one of the least popular generals for a planeswalker theme, commanding a paltry 0.65% of those deck submissions.

Estrid is an unpopular Superfriends general simply because there are much better options for that particular theme. Still, she is a planeswalker, and Bant certainly enables some of the typical superfriends EDH strategies.

But I’m not suggesting that you build Estrid as a Superfriends commander instead of an Aura commander.

I’m saying, “Do both!”

At the same time.

The obvious problem is this: a good Aura deck will have most (if not all) of the 99 in direct support of that strategy. The same is true for pretty much any “good” deck. By taking what amounts to half of an Aura deck and mixing it with half of a planeswalker deck, you’re weakening both strategies. You’re reducing your likelihood to draw components for either gameplan, and you’re reducing the number of functional pieces for either approach.

That all sounds bad, but what if...


Flex Tape®

...what if we minimize that huge drawback? We’ll get to the “how” in a moment. If we can reduce the disadvantages of effectively splitting our deck, we have created a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon scenario (as film metaphors go, this one is a bit ungainly, so bear with me) in that we are hiding our deck’s true purpose.

All right, so it’s not the deck’s true purpose; rather, a secondary purpose. Something greater than an alternate win condition, but without becoming so unwieldy as to be a hindrance to the deck’s main goal.

This allows you to keep your opponents on their toes and guessing. Perhaps they’ll be thinking, “Oh, an Estrid deck. Auras and enchantments, sure, nothing new. Oh, wait, is that The Chain Veil? I guess they’re doing some hipster Superfriends brew. Oh, no, they’re still playing enchantments-matter cards. Maybe they don’t know what they’re doing....”

And maybe we don’t. But obfuscating stupidity is certainly a viable tactic!


Licking Our Wounds

By using simple metrics on EDHREC, we can find inclusion rates for cards in various archetypes. With high enough percentages, it’s safe to call certain cards “staples” within particular themes. Sometimes there’s overlap. For example, Flux Channeler and Evolution Sage each show up with a 40%-60% inclusion rate in recommendations for planeswalker decks, +1/+1 counters decks, and Infect decks. It’s reasonable to infer that these are flexible cards that work well with a variety of strategies.

There exist similar overlaps for cards across the recs on this site, and while they’re not always quite so robust, they do provide a starting point. Combine that with a flexible commander, and you’ve found yourself a launch pad for a Dual Shot at brewing!

(Depending on your predilections, your reaction is likely somewhere along the lines of one of the two cards depicted above)

Anyway, in addition to potentially flummoxing your opponents, incorporating a secondary theme (or subtheme) into the brewing process can unveil some unexpected cross-theme synergies. Earlier this year, Kyle Massa wrote an article on EDHREC about building around a Gates theme. Incredibly, a functional deck is built out of something that doesn’t even have a Theme page on the site. There aren’t many Gates, and there aren’t many Gates-matter cards. In this sense, something like Gates looks to be a perfect subtheme to include, as it’s already extremely difficult to present as a primary theme in itself, and it has a number of good payoffs and alternate win conditions.

Taking one established theme and merging it with another requires a bit more restraint, and perhaps a lowering of expectations. In any case, in the spirit of obfuscation, here’s Estrid:

Estrid, the Enchantress (Who Moonlights as a Planeswalker)

Commander (1)
Creatures (21)
Enchantments (19)
Instants (5)
Sorceries (3)
Artifacts (6)
Planeswalkers (9)
Lands (36)

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

Trying to go 50/50 with this approach to merging decks does not work. The consistency for either tactic plummets – you’re missing components for each half-deck, and you’re less likely to find what remains. By aiming for something that approximates more of an 80/20 split, and by trying to reconcile the dual nature of the end product by including “cross-theme staples,” you can get a functional deck that’ll make your playgroup ask you if everything is okay.

For example, in the above decklist, the Oaths function as staples for the Superfriends package while also at the very least supporting your commander (if you don’t draw any walkers) and checking enchantment triggers. The Chain Veil is such a common inclusion for this archetype that it feels silly to ignore it, even if it will wind up as a truly dead card for many of your games. There will be plenty of matchups where you draw into Oaths with no walkers on board or in hand. However, they can still provide utility by drawing cards through Eidolon of Blossoms, Tuvasa the Sunlit, and other Enchantresses, or by widening the board state through Sigil of the Empty Throne and Ajani’s Chosen.

There is also the less obvious drawback of an 80/20 split to be considered: the inconsistency of the “20” side. It is meant to be an alternate approach to gameplay, and if you draw into it, great; if not, there can be some feel-bads. As an example, cards like Deploy the Gatewatch simply do not work. A card like that works better when the risk is much lower, helping to ensure the reward (e.g., in a dedicated Superfriends deck). In the spirit of planeswalking with pals, you should use Call the Gatewatch instead.


Conclusion

Once your playgroup realizes what you’re doing, you may remain wily! The thing is, doing something like this doesn’t attract a lot of attention. At least, not the dangerous kind of attention. While you can win games through attrition, Group Hug strategies, and letting everyone else fight while you timidly set up esoteric win conditions, these things are relatively difficult and require patience and politicking.

This Estrid Deck (Prepared Two Ways) was extremely fun to pilot, providing a radically different kind of variance. Some games, you're simply playing another deck than you were the game before. Some games you’re spread too thin, and the element of surprise really only works once. This brew is very susceptible to removal (though Sterling Grove helps), but it fares very favorably in combat – cards like Ever-Watching Threshold and Sphere of Safety should provide just enough cover to keep you entrenched while keeping apace through Enchantress card draw.

Eventually, assuming there aren’t any Turn-4 win conditions at the table, you can overwhelm the opposition by going wide enough and/or tall enough in typical Enchantress fashion. The planeswalker package here generally only provides utility and keeps you alive long enough to win through damage, but it might provide some spectacular moments (like getting Garruk Wildspeaker’s ultimate to go off with a couple of Kiora’s Krakens and about a dozen 2/2 Cat tokens on board).

It’s worth mentioning that this was all tested in casual environments with friends, and in less-than-competitive queues on MTGO. Ultimately, these brewing experiments have proven to provide a great deal of entertaining variance (as opposed to the regular kind of variance), and to be, eh, somewhat reliable.

I’d had this idea for subthematic brewing a long time ago, and it arose from necessity – that is, not having enough cards to build the decks I wanted. Over time, it turned into something a bit less fumbling than that, but I’m happy just to have given it a shot... a dual shot....

Oh, Theros Gods, give me strength.

That's the baffling end of this installment of Dual Shot! Let me know about any decks where you've managed to simultaneously play two different themes in the comments below!

SLVS is a journalist and biotechnician for the U.S. National Park Service, where he makes sense of science jargon and takes pictures of bears. Otherwise, he spends his energy writing weird fiction about robots with anxiety, bothersome elder gods, and rare plant species that cause mild insanity. He once sold a Volcanic Island (3ED) for thirty dollars.