Replacement Commanders — Activating Abilities with the Great Pretender
Ladies, gentlemen, changelings…here we are again! Another installment of Replacement Commanders, the series where we look at the “other guys/girls” from Commander 2017 and break down some different strategies that may have not been represented well with the precons. We look at what you, the people are building with the help of EDHREC.com, the site's list of themes, advanced filters it offers and the EDHREC-powered Scryfall.com. There were eight non-Eminence Legendary Creatures printed to man the Commander 2017 precon decks and this is our fifth installment of the series, meaning only three more after this. With that being said, today we are going to talk about Mairsil, the Pretender!
The Truth Behind the Pretender
The first thing we do during each of these articles is look at what our legendary creature does and their stats to get a general idea of what kind of strategies we are going to talk about. We consider several factors, such as casting cost, colors and the themes common to those colors and then power and toughness. Combine this with any kind of evasion to see if the commander can deal that sweet blackjack (or 21 commander damage) for the win.
Normally, a quick look Mairsil's stats would make us think about hitting blackjack on our opponents. A 4 CMC legendary creature with power and toughness of 4/4 is a very nice curve. I think if Mairsil had some form of evasion, I could see there being some strategies that could be employed to reach that sweet spot of 21 damage. Instead, Mairsil gives up the idea of evasion for a crazy mechanic that I really enjoy having in the command zone. The most interesting part of Mairsil’s ability is that previously exiled creatures and artifacts remain in exile with those cage counters on them. That means it does not matter how many times your opponents try to remove Mairsil, we get to bring the Pretender back and start the shenanigans all over again. Speaking of shenanigans, we can probably guess that there is going to be many tap and untap relevant shenanigans going on when we look at the EDHREC.com-based “precon” list. Let us look at it, now:
Mairsil, the Ability Hoarder
As one would assume, the list is nearly half is artifacts and creatures, most of whom have activatable abilities. The few enchantments we are running deal with ensuring we keep drawing more answers, have haste or can activate abilities even easier. Then, there is a good number of spells that help us get cards (see: creatures and artifacts with activated abilities, maybe?) into our graveyard while the others help us control the board state so that our opponents cannot run away with the game. One of the things that stuck out in the list for me was the inclusion of both Basalt Monolith and Rings of Brighthearth, a well-known “infinite colorless mana” combo. The reason I want to point this out is to remind everyone that we can only activate each of Mairsil’s caged abilities, meaning that we cannot go infinite if we give Monolith’s abilities to Mairsil. Of course, Quicksilver Elemental fixes this problem by getting all the caged activated abilities without the static “once per turn” restriction. “Blinking” or “flickering” (exiling and bringing back to the battlefield effects) will also reset Mairsil’s restriction for the turn, but those tend to be mana intensive. Still, if Mairsil had access to white, I would imagine Eldrazi Displacer would feel right at home!
Behold the Mage Army!
Sadly, though, we do not have access to white with the Pretender as our general. Something we do have access to, however, is a ton of Wizard creatures that have no end of awesome tap abilities. Honestly, Mairsil could be just as good of a tribal Wizard commander as Inalla, Archmage, Ritualist, the actual Eminence commander of the Wizard deck. To do that, we need to take some of the tapping artifacts and non-Wizard creatures out, to make room for our new coven of buddies.
We see a couple in the original list with Jace’s Archivist and Arcanis the Omnipotent but I could see some other awesome tribal support cards being added to the list. Galecaster Colossus and Azami, Lady of Scrolls are great and Lich Lord of Unx can help us pump out little baby Wizards. Taigam, Sidisi’s Hand has become a new favorite Commander for me and I would love to see him do work in this deck, like digging through our deck with his passive while he is on the battlefield and the value of being removal on a stick. We have a decent number of instants and sorceries, so Docent of Perfection can also pop out Wizard tokens while eventually flipping over and giving those value tokens a boost and turning them into a flock of swole mages. If Counterspell is one of your favorite cards, Baral, Chief of Compliance and Talrand, Sky Summoner can also be high value cards. Naturally, if we are talking about tribal Wizards, I think we must talk about one of my favorite new Ixalan cards, Dire Fleet Ravager. Not every Wizard creature needs to have an activated ability for Mairsil to copy, though. Bloodline Necromancer helps with recursion, Disciple of Bolas is a great card for keeping your hand full and there are cards like Kindred Dominance that are cheaper one-sided board wipes in our favor. A great argument could be made for Kindred Discovery as well, to replace cards in our hand when we cast our Wizards, but I feel like Kindred Charge doesn’t necessarily have a place in this list.
Oh, since I think I have mentioned it in all the past articles that discuss a tribal synergy, Path of Ancestry makes a great land for tribal decks.
Throw Rocks, Not Spells!
While tribal Wizards can be a fun strategy with the Pretender, there is another one that I think should get everyone pumped. For as long as I have been playing the format (roughly five years or so now) one of the things many people in my play groups and online have been badgering Wizards of the Coast for is an Izzet color-aligned legendary dreature that centers around artifacts. There are thirteen different Izzet commanders and not even one of them is named an artificer, let alone any who specifically interact with artifacts. Now, I already know what you lovely readers are going to say. “DM, Mairsil is not an Izzet Commander! What does any of this have to do with Izzet?” But hear me out! Adding black is not some kind of drawback for artifact decks. With the lovely block that was Kaladesh, black gained a powerful card in the form of Marionette Master which loves seeing the red-based recursion of artifacts bringing rocks back just so they can go right back to the graveyard. When we look at Mairsil and realize the Pretender can take over any activated abilities of artifacts as well as creatures, I think we have the makings of an awesome Artificer deck. After all, who hasn't wanted to have Trading Post in the command zone of their artifact deck? Or we can get Post on the battlefield and having Mairsil hold a Staff of Domination and use those abilities to keep Post grinding out some insane value. Another awesome card from Kaladesh that could really work in this deck is Syndicate Trafficker to sacrifice artifacts like Mycosynth Wellspring and commander staple Solemn Simulacrum. In past articles in this series, I spoke about a recursion package with artifact synergies in mind, throwing in cards like Daretti, Scrap Savant. Running creatures that also happen to be artifacts means that Palace Siege can be a hidden gem in this deck, while even simple cards like Junk Diver means we can recur our creatures as well as our artifacts. Of course, no artifact deck is complete without Darksteel Forge, Myr Battlesphere and Blinkmoth Urn. Ixalan can provide us with some fun cards like Deadeye Plunderers, and if we want to get into some serious shenanigans, we can spend some money on Mycosnyth Lattice. If we want to ruffle some feathers, sneak a Blightsteel Colossus in there. I tend not to get into great detail about what lands to run for any given strategy because a commander deck’s manabase can sometimes be the most expensive part, and I do not want to make anyone think they need to drop triple-digit money just to have fun in this format. But I really enjoy the idea of replacing a few basic lands with Great Furnace, Vault of Whispers, Ancient Den, Academy Ruin, and, if you want to go old-school, a full set of the Urza lands; Urza’s Tower, Urza’s Power Plant and Urza’s Mine.
Speaking of spending money, while Wizards of the Coast may not have given us the Artificer in the colors we wanted, they have made no shortage of Planeswalker cards that deal with artifacts. Aside from the previously mentioned Daretti, there is Tezzeret the Seeker, Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas and even Ugin, the Spirit Dragon that can beef up the power of any deck that wants to play with rocks.
Activate Your Imagination Ability!
Commander is home to a great number of different strategies and archetypes. We have “weenie” decks, Voltron strategies, tribes that synergize amazingly, graveyard shenanigans and so much more. One strategy that I personally have not built many decks around is called a “toolbox” deck, where your commander does not have to be the focus but truly facilitates your strategy just by existing and doing what they do naturally. The very concept of Mairsil means that the Pretender can become the biggest toolbox creature ever because the only limit to the way you use his abilities is how many abilities you can pack into the deck. I get excited to see these kinds of commanders because we tend to see some unique strategies. Some people will focus on a few specific combos while others will try to smash as many interactions as they can into a stack of 100 cards. At the end of the day, Mairsil is a commander that can speak to many of us in the Commander universe, so I am very excited to see how the EDHREC.com database evolves the longer he is out and about in metas and on kitchen tables around the world.
As I said at the beginning of the article, we are on the countdown to the end of my first series here at EDHREC.com. I am as excited to complete the series as I was to start it, but we have three more legendary creatures to discuss. Please remember, you can follow me on Twitter (@DM_Cross) to have a say in which commander we discuss next. Leave me a comment below to tell me about your Mairsil deck or even which Commander 2017 Replacement commander you would like to read about next time! Thanks for reading. Until next time!