General Medicine: Let's Pretend!
The Doctor is In!
Although we’re in the middle of Commander 2018 spoilers right now, this week in General Medicine we’re going to take a look at a commander from last year’s product that got a lot of hype before the release, but perhaps didn’t live up to its potential. The Arcane Wizardry deck wasn’t the most hyped deck before release, but two of the commanders available in the deck – Inalla, Archmage Ritualist and Kess, Dissident Mage – have both grown in popularity, with each propagating their own pretty unique strategy. The former is one of the options available for a Wizard tribal deck, and the latter is a fairly competent spellslinger commander.
I think the third commander option from Arcane Wizardry, Mairsil, the Pretender, hasn’t come into his own quite yet. Before release, there were quite a bit of buzz around Reddit and other places on the internet about how to properly utilize Mairsil, the Pretender’s ability, and the card’s uniqueness even tickled the fancy of non-EDH players. Quite soon, people discovered cards like Quicksilver Elemental and really opened up the combo-tastic aspects of this commander.
I too bought Arcane Wizardry upon release, and I too built a Mairsil, the Pretender deck, but I have to admit that I didn’t play it for very long. While Mairsil is very cool, and while the lore behind the character is pretty fascinating stuff (back in a time when Magic stories came in books rather than in an online column), I couldn’t quite get the deck to click for me personally. Think of this article is a means of making up for that, in my own way. Before we get into it though, I want to discuss some of the basics of the color combination.
Grixis in EDH
Grixis is in an odd place in the format. I think I could quite easily defend a position like “black and blue are arguably the two strongest colors in the format,” and for long stretches of time I've played Dimir as my main color pair. Blue brings the best countermagic and best card draw to the table, while black has some of the best removal, the best tutors, and also great utility in reanimation spells. Adding a third color to the mix, I would argue that green, in a vacuum, is the strongest contender since green patches up Dimir’s biggest issue nicely – namely, ramp. Black has the potential to be very explosive with cards like Cabal Coffers, Crypt Ghast and other similar staples, but these effects are diminished the more black is diluted by other colors. Blue doesn’t really have any ramp to offer, nor does white, and red is stuck with the ritual-like spells of Seething Song – very powerful in the 60-card formats, but not quite as awesome in EDH.
So, why bother with Grixis when we could play Sultai? Well, red adds some very attractive things to our suite of cards, most notably some of the best removal spells in the format. Vandalblast, Chaos Warp, and Blasphemous Act are all mono-red removal and staples of the format, for very good reasons. Within the Grixis sphere, red adds more powerful staple removal in the form of Terminate and Dreadbore as well as neat utility spells in the charms – Izzet Charm, Rakdos Charm, and Crosis's Charm are all flexible modal cards that should probably be considered for play no matter which Grixis commander you’re looking at.
This signals perhaps Grixis’s greatest strengths in the format – the inherent power of blue and black combined, coupled with some of the format’s best removal. We ought not forget that Grixis has no shortage of powerful single spells. Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker, Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh, and Cruel Ultimatum are examples of powerful, oppressive cards that can either completely change the board state when cast or outright turn a losing position into a winning one.
Grixis’s downfall lies perhaps in its lack of ramp. While many other color combinations have the ability to ramp into lands, Grixis is forced to rely on artifacts to get going, which can be dangerous. That said, there are plenty of powerful staple artifacts to use, most notably the signets (Dimir Signet, Izzet Signet, and Rakdos Signet), the talismans (Talisman of Dominance and Talisman of Indulgence), the three-mana staples of Command Sphere and Chromatic Lantern, and of course, Sol Ring.
Pretending to be Pretending
Mairsil is often in a strange place regarding deck composition and color combination. Rather than going the “Grixis Goodstuff” route that could quite easily be helmed by fellow Arcane Wizardry legend Kess, Dissident Mage, Mairsil, the Pretender is hyper specialized. The best cards in the deck, generally, are nigh-unplayable in other decks. Let’s examine a few of them and see why.
- Aetherling: This card is ideally the first one to be exiled with a cage counter. Not only does it actually make our commander eligible for commander damage by allowing us to make him unblockable and pump him for a few mana (at least once), but it also protects Mairsil, the Pretender and blinks him, meaning that for every time he enters the battlefield anew, something else can be put in the cage. Brilliant!
- Morphling and Torchling: My roots are in Vintage, which was the first proper format I ever played competitively. I did so with a couple of Morphlings and a playset of Ophidians in a mono blue permission shell, so I have a soft spot for the now soundly dethroned ex-best-creature-of-the-game. Actually, the ability to actually play Morphling was what made me build this deck at all. This pair is most often used to untap Mairsil, the Pretender, but Morphling’s other abilities can be useful in the same way as Aetherling’s.
- Quicksilver Elemental: This is a weird card, and it works with the commander in a very particular way. For example, we cage Quicksilver Elemental and Morphling. The latter grants a bunch of different activated abilities to Mairsil, the Pretender but we can only activate each of them once. However, we can also activate Quicksilver Elemental’s ability, targeting the commander itself. This grants Mairsil another instance of each activated ability on both of these cards, which of course haven't been activated yet. This makes for all sorts of crazy infinite combos, and Quicksilver Elemental is thus one of the strongest cards in the deck.
So, what do these cards have in common? Aside from maybe Aetherling, which is actually a pretty neat card in itself, they are all pretty much unplayable in EDH and really only useful when exiled with a cage counter on it. Thus, we’re left with a deck that might be difficult to balance and build properly – without our commander, we’re left with a pretty darn janky deck. These days, being without your commander is a rarer issue than it used to be under the tuck rule, but cards like Desertion can ruin an entire game for us if we’re unlucky.
All of this aside, when Mairsil, the Pretender gets going, he is difficult to stop because the cards he utilizes are in exile, and thus very difficult to interact with. The only other things that he usually needs to completely take over the game are a haste outlet and a couple of ways to untap himself. We’re going to make this happen.
Carlos, the brewer of today’s patient, has sent us this list:
Link to the deck on deckstats: Click!
We’re looking at a fairly usual-looking Mairsil, the Pretender deck, meaning it’s got a bunch of cards that don’t usually show up in other decks. This brew is interesting though, since it keeps a little artifact sub-theme, and I can dig that. I will try to keep this mostly intact. We’re missing a couple of key pieces from the 'goodstuff' lineup, however.
Inputting the deck into EDHREC’s Rec feature yields a whole bunch of cards that we can add. The top four recommendations are, in order: Quicksilver Elemental, Cyclonic Rift, Morphling, and Lightning Greaves. I was surprised to find that the prices on both Cyclonic Rift and Morphling have exploded lately, and they are unfortunately out of budget range in this case (Carlos has set a budget of max $8 per card). Still, both the Boots and the Quicksilver Elemental fall well into the budget and both are excellent cards for the deck. Granted, Lightning Greaves isn’t as strong in this deck as in many others; Mairsil, the Pretender will blink out and in during opponents’ turns anway, and the fact that Lightning Greaves gives Mairsil shroud is a huge downside, since we'll need to target our commander to untap it.
Fact or Fiction is nothing short of fantastic, and since we can cage things from the graveyard it might as well just read “Draw 5 cards” in this deck. Windfall is another card that can really turn things on their heads, and considering the graveyard is so useful to us, it should probably be in the deck. Final Parting is a pretty new card that should definitely make the cut, considering its flexibility; the ability to fetch two cage targets, or to retrieve one cage target to the graveyard and something like Swan Song to our hand seems really neat. Frantic Search and Izzet Charm are cheap, flexible card draw spells, and their respective card disadvantages can be handled by our commander.
As far as cage targets go, Carlos has the basic pieces all in order, but there are a few I would like to highlight that he hasn’t added yet. Pipi-Pala is cute, not entirely useless by itself, and a good way to untap our commander. It’s also an artifact, which is good for this brew. Eater of the Dead is a really weird untap effect, but the card is very rare, slightly out of our budget, and requires someone to have a creature for us to target, since we don’t want to remove our own things. Shauku, Endbringer and Minion of Leshrac both have powerful tap effects, but while Avatar of Woe is perfectly fine to cast as-is, neither of these are. Either can go in the deck if we want more ways to turn on the spot removal engine, but I’d say it’s quite meta-dependent. Ovinomancer is another great alternative, since it will bounce Mairsil, the Pretender when caged, so we can recast him and get more stuff in cages!
Lastly, Jodah's Avenger and Pack Rat are both excellent cards in the deck. Jodah’s Avenger turns Mairsil, the Pretender to a double-striker, meaning we can probably kill somebody with commander damage very quickly when combined with Aetherling. Pack Rat, when caged, basically adds an ability that says “2B, Discard a card: Put something in the cage” to Mairsil, the Pretender.
Pretending to Be In
I would suggest the following changes to Carlos’ deck list:
ChangesView on Archidekt
Aside from the cards already mentioned, I’ve decided to add a 37th land to the list, in the form of the missing artifact land Vault of Whispers. I’ve also added Aquamoeba, a cheap and neat little discard outlet that lets Mairsil, the Pretender do really dumb things with Tree of Perdition.
As far as the cuts go, I’ve been forced to cut cards that Carlos says he really likes, namely Keranos, God of Storms and Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. Both are perfectly fine cards, but I don’t think that they belong in this shell. I can see Carlos keeping them for personal preference reasons, however, and I would never advise against that. We’re all in this to have fun, after all, and we have more fun when we play with cards we like! Panharmonicon seems to fit like a glove in the deck, but my main issue with it is that while Mairsil, the Pretender benefits from it, no other creature in our deck really does. This means that while Panharmonicon allows us to power through our first phase of adding cage counters to stuff, we’ll soon run out, and we’re left with a card that cost us 4 mana and which might, at best, absorb a removal spell (my experience is that Panharmonicon is kill-on-sight in many groups). I’ve left Conjurer’s Closet in the deck since it basically does the same for Mairsil, the Pretender, but also untaps him, or any other creature we have for that matter. Essence Flux and Dramatic Reversal are fine cards, but I’m not convinced their one-shot effects are worth an entire card.
In the Other Options section above, I’ve left some cards that didn’t find room in the deck, as well as a few who are just too expensive. Intuition, for example, would be awesome in the deck, but is far, far too expensive.
The Final Iteration
The changes leaves us with this final brew:
Link to the deck on deckstats: Click!
In our new list, we’ve shaved off some of the cards that weren’t pulling their weight, and added in a more focused strategy on the commander. If Carlos finds that getting the commander exiled is an issue, I would look at adding more permission in the form of cheap counterspells – Counterspell and Arcane Denial are the most notable cheap and efficient counterspells available to us.
Did I miss out on any cards? What cards would you consider for the deck yourself? Leave a comment below, and help Carloswith his deck!
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