Ultra Budget Brews - Mairsil, the Pretender

(Mairsil, the Pretender | Art by Izzy)

You're the Pretender

Welcome back to another edition of Ultra Budget Brews, the article series that builds entire EDH decks containing no card that costs more than $1. I write this series because I like saving money and if I enjoy something, I figure others do as well. Besides just saving money, setting limitations and restrictions on deckbuilding can lead to interesting, outside-of-the-box ideas that can liven up your group's play experience. Also, I enjoy the challenge!

This week, the challenge was... very challenging

(This is how I felt after writing that last sentence. I'm good at this, trust me.)

There were a ton of votes on the last article, and I'll fully admit I was surprised about which commander won.

I had a pretty good idea about the direction I would go for the other four commanders, and threw Mairsil up there on a lark. I figured once you've seen one Mairsil deck, you've basically seen all of them, so nobody was going to vote for it. I made the error that everyone makes at one time or another during their life: underestimating the depravity of the internet.

Obviously, I'm exaggerating a bit, but this was tough, for reasons I will address in a minute. Until then, let's check out what we are working with.

What If I Say I'm Not Like the Others?


  • Grixis colors combine two of the strongest colors in EDH (blue and black)
  • A 4/4 for four mana is nothing to sneeze at
  • Mairsil's text box is one of the most interesting that I can ever remember coming across
  • Mairsil looks like he's in the middle of the whole "playing the world's saddest violin" monologue


  • Each ability can only be used once each turn, which limits his power (this is as a positive as well, as it would be completely busted otherwise)
  • Mairsil only 'cages' one artifact or creature each time he's played, but it really wants multiple cards caged
  • Can be difficult for other (especially new) players to understand exactly what is happening, leading to slower games
  • Black fingernails are...rad?

What If I Say I'm Not Just Another One of Your Plays?

Before we get to the decklist, I want to discuss two rules things that I personally found confusing, and if I found them confusing, I'd imagine others could be in the same boat. The first thing is something I've discussed in articles before this one, like this article I wrote about Kurkesh, and that's the difference between triggered and activated abilities. Mairsil only cares about activated abilities. If you want the Sparknotes of the rules, if it has ':' in it, it's an activated ability, if it has 'whenever' 'when' or 'at the beginning/end of [insert step here]' in it, it's triggered.

The other rule that tripped me up when I was first trying to brew this deck involves activated abilities that are self-referential. For example:

Morphling's abilities specifically reference 'Morphling'. Mairsil can pretend to be many things, but he is not a clone and is definitely not named Morphling. This led me to Mairsil's Gatherer page to check out the rulings associated with him:

I assumed that this was how it worked, but I wanted to be sure, and thought it would be worth passing that information along. When Mairsil pretends, he pretends properly.

It should be noted that there are a few exceptions to this, perhaps the most notable being Mirror-Mad Phantasm, which was in the first version of the deck I built. This is a card you see in very combo-centric Mairsil builds, because when you use Mairsil to activate its ability, you mill your entire deck into the graveyard. While Mairsil adopts the Phantasm's name to be shuffled into the deck, the ability still searches for a card specifically named Mirror-mad Phantasm. Your Mirror-Mad is caged in exile and Mairsil doesn't count as Mirror-Mad when it is in the library, so poof! Your library gets milled. You then do shenanigans with [elNarcomeba[/el], Bloodghast, and Dread Return to win with Laboratory Maniac. Since I'm not running Labman combo, and it can't be used for filling your graveyard part of the way, Mirror-Mad got cut.

On second thought, let's not talk about Lab-man combo. 'Tis a silly place.

Now that we have a better understanding of the rules involving Mairsil, let's look at our ultra budget Pretender deck.

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
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Card Kingdom: $32.53

As you can probably see most of our cards are artifacts or creatures that give Mairsil abilities. These abilities can be broken down into a few categories.


These were some of the more difficult abilities to come by with our budget, as most of the efficient untappers are combo fodder, making them equal parts popular and expensive. This made this deck more challenging to build; just tapping Mairsil once a turn isn't likely to be enough to gain us the advantage that we need to be competitive. That being said, we do have a few untappers.

These cards are some of our most important as most activated abilities require tapping as part of the cost.


This might be the second most important ability for Mairsil. Mairsil is the kind of commander that draws a lot of attention, simply because it is a known combo commander and people tend to hate on combo, perhaps disproportionately.

As such, if you simply play Mairsil and hope to make to around the table, you are likely in for a bad time. Outside of protection like hexproof or shroud, the best way to get around this is to be able to use him the turn he comes down, which is where haste comes in to play.

These are some of our better haste enablers and I would be happy to have any of these in any Mairsil game.


Blink and flicker effects are an important part of the deck. Mairsil only gets to put cage counters on cards when he enters the battlefield, and on his own, he's only going to enter the battlefield when being recast. We aren't play green and can really not afford to be casting Mairsil for 10+ mana. That means we need reliable ways to trigger his enter the battlefield effect without him dying and going to the command zone.

These are just a few of the blink-ish cards that will allow us to get enough cage counters to hit the critical mass necessary to really be a threat.


Sometimes, there are cards that disrupt you or threaten to eliminate you from the game altogether. Thankfully, we have a bunch of ways to deal with anyone that's feeling froggy and wants to tango.

A Mairsil with removal can discourage your opponents from playing their more powerful threats. No one wants to Time Walk themselves by spending a seven mana for a Gisela or a Praetor only to have it get Murdered by the mere act of turning Mairsil sideways.


So, I may have buried the lede a bit. When building this deck, I found that a lot of the best win conditions for Mairsil were outside of our budget. Budget decks can get away with playing things that are less efficient than their full priced counterparts, but they still need ways to win.

During this deck's first iteration, I found I didn't really have a win condition. The deck sort of spun its wheels for a while, hoped everyone else ignored Mairsil, and then when it was the only one left, would hard cast a Skyship Stalker and pray that the last remaining opponent was firmly agnostic when it comes to believing in the heart of the cards, drawing nothing but worthless lands, while you attempt to get there with a flying 3/3.

Solid game plan, yeah?

While looking through Mairsil's EDHREC page, I came across Pestilent Souleater.

As I mentioned earlier, Mairsil actually comes equipped with halfway decent stats already. Add in a few cards to help boost his power and to give him some evasion, such as Volrath the Fallen, Torchling, and Cephalid Inkshrouder, and you have an actual win con on your hands.

I knew that just having the one Infect card wasn't going to do it, but thankfully there are a few others that wanted to join in the party.

Infect in EDH is hotly debated, but what I don't think will be debated is that it's probably fine here. You only have a few ways to do it and, with the exception of Tainted Strike, your opponents can see it coming from a mile away. Sometimes their reactions will be quick enough...

How could he have known the President was a skilled amateur dodgeball player?

...and other times...

I wasn't aware that Khalil Mack was the Bull's mascot in his down time

...well, they should have been paying more attention.

Other than the above, we have some ramp, which is something that every Commander deck needs, a few ways to draw cards, and some mill cards to help us fill our graveyard with cage fodder. While we can cage stuff from our hand, it's comes with a pretty hefty price tag in the form of card disadvantage. Whenever possible, it would behoove us to target cards in the graveyard, though there will certainly be situations that you absolutely must cage specific cards from hand.

Notable Inclusions

Infernal Denizen

This doesn't even see play in the most casual of Demon tribal decks, probably because its equal parts bad and old. The drawback on it is simply brutal, much worse than anything you see on more modern Demons. That being said, its activated ability is great, giving us a way to clear out difficult blockers or beating our opponents in to a stupor with their own win condition.

Cinderhaze Wretch

The repeatable, targeted discard on this is probably a bit underrated, but we really want this because finding ways to untap Mairsil for free is not something we typically are able to do on a budget, and this does it for the low cost of making Mairsil a bit smaller. Without a way to flicker Mairsil, this will eventually kill him, but even that can be helpful if we are struggling to find ways to get more things in to the cage. With a way to flicker Mairsil, the downside of the -1/-1 counter is non-existent.

Quicksilver Elemental

When researching for this article, I read an article by EDHREC's own Robin Kass, who wrote a great article about Mairsil last July. Since he did such a great job, I figured I'd let him explain how Quicksilver interacts with Mairsil:

"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."

Well said.

Shifty Doppelganger

This card allows you to cheat expensive creatures in to play, flickers Mairsil, and puts creatures into the graveyard so that they can be caged. It's an absolute home run in this deck and is not a card you're opponents are likely to have seen before, giving you those sweet, sweet hipster points.

How Hipster is it Anyway? The game where the rules are made up, and the points don't matter

Spikeshot Elder

Spikeshot Elder gives us a way to kill our opponents with Mairsil without risking the red zone. It also pairs incredibly well with Infect. On a scale from 'peanut butter and chocolate' to 'Swiss chard and anything,' it scores approximately a 'Pizza Rolls and ranch.'

Notable Exclusions

As always, these are some of the cards I would add if I were unconcerned with budget, looking to up the power level of the deck, or simply had a copy laying around in my trade binder.


This card is essentially a cheaper Aetherling that untaps instead of blinking. If that doesn't sound like it's worth the $12 price tag, you're right. It's only that expensive because it's on the Reserved List. That being said, it is great in this deck and if you want to power it up, this card definitely does the trick.

Tree of Perdition

Remember Tree of Perdition's drawback of only setting your opponent's life to 13? What if you could set it to 4? How about using Aetherling or Torchling and setting them to actual Lightning Bolt range instead? If that sounds fun, it's because it is. This card seems like the exact kind of party I want to invite all of my friends to.


A Spikeshot Elder that has an easier-to-activate cost and also untaps is exactly the sort of creature this deck wants. Wizards, reprint the untap symbol, please.

Gilded Lotus

This card is a bit overrated in most non-artifact-based commander decks, but the ability to make colored mana is huge. Most of the best possible turns with Mairsil somehow involve Gilded Lotus and because of its recent reprinting, it should be easy to find and acquire through trades.

Chainer, Dementia Master

I've always thought that Chainer would be a fun deck to build, but I can never pull the trigger. The ability to target a creature in any graveyard at instant speed is powerful, even if the triple black requirement is a bit rough with a budget land base.

What If I Say That I'll Never Surrender?

What do you think of the deck? Is it the sort of deck that you'd enjoy piloting, or is it too finicky for your taste? I'd love to hear your opinions in the comment section! If you are interested in seeing more EDH content from me, follow me on Twitter at @BrewsMTG. I post #DailyEDH content every day, normally about budget focused cards. Your poll for the next article is below!

Until next time!

Andrew is a life-long gamer and has been playing Magic since 2013. He works as an ASL interpreter, enjoys running, and sitting on his porch reading, while simultaneously silently judging his neighbors. He lives in Joplin, MO with his wife.

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