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Breaking Mairsil, the Pretender

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It's rare that WOTC catches my attention with a new Commander. The first time it happened was with Uril, the Miststalker – this was before Commander was “cool”, back when Coalition Relics were all the rage! It didn’t happen again until recently with The Locust God, and now not more than a month later, they've done it again! Let me introduce you to my new Commander crush.

Mairsil, the Pretender

Mairsil is a puzzle that will test even the best of deck-builders. The sheer amount of possibilities makes the process of assembling a Mairsil deck both exciting, and daunting. Each element is like a gear in a complicated mechanical clock. Success is not only determined by which gears you use but also how they're put together. Let's take a look at the elements that make a Mairsil deck tick.

Ode to Mairsil

I'm certain that as the novelty of the Commander 2017 tribes wears off, that Mairsil will rise be one of the most popular Commanders to build around. Some will go the control / “value” route with the deck. Using Mairsil to cage cards like Avatar of Woe, or Arcanis the Omnipotent to grind out an advantage over time. Now don’t get me wrong, destroying a creature, or drawing three cards are reasonable abilities - but I’m more interested in the unreasonable things we can do with Mairsil!

There’s a swath of great value or control commanders, but Mairsil is uniquely suited to be one of the best combo commanders to ever grace the battlefield. The fact that there are so few ways to interact with Mairsil’s ability (Riftsweeper, Pull from Eternity) is what makes it so appealing for combo players. Over the course of the game, you can craft the perfect set of abilities, and lean on the inevitably that comes with having a one-card combo in the command zone. When I first saw Mairsil, these thoughts rushed through my mind, and I asked myself the question: "What's the most broken thing I can do with this card?”

Infinite Mana

Let’s warm things up with an infinite mana combo. There are some pretty involved ways to accomplish infinite mana, but I think this is the most efficient, only requiring three items to be caged; Quicksilver Elemental, Gilded Lotus, and Staff of Domination. There are some substitutes that you can run, for example Prismatic Geoscope does a nice Gilded Lotus impression, and Pili-Pala is a fine untapper. Not to mention, pairing a Grand Architect with Pili-Pala give you access to a non-Mairsil dependent infinite mana combo.

Gilded Lotus
Staff of Domination
Quicksilver Elemental

Quicksilver Elemental and the Rules:

When Mairsil was spoiled, Quicksilver Elemental quickly found its way into conversations about Mairsil driven combos. It was initially believed that you could skirt Mairsil’s “once per turn” restriction by using Mairsil to activate Quicksilver’s ability targeting himself. There are some nuances here that should be cleared up:

1) All abilities that Mairsil possesses can be used once per turn, even if there are many abilities on one single card.

2) Quicksilver Elemental’s ability allows you to give Mairsil a new instance of all abilities, allowing to use the abilities an additional time if you’ve already used them.

3) The new abilities from Quicksilver Elemental also carry the once per turn restriction. This means you have to pay a blue mana every time, that you want to “re-buy” your abilities.

You can find see the ruling in this tweet from the Magic Rules Manager.

To execute the infinite mana combo, Mairsil needs to be ready to tap, which means we need him to survive a turn (good luck with that), or he needs to have haste (more on this later). Tap Mairsil using Gilded Lotus' ability to create three blue mana. Then use one blue to untap Mairsil with Staff of Domination's untap ability. Because of Mairsil's "once a turn" clause the party would typically be over, but thanks to Quicksilver Elemental we’re be able to grant Mairsil a new instance of all abilities. Use a second blue mana to activate Quicksilver Elemental's ability targeting Himself. Each time you repeat this process you net one blue mana.

After making a few thousand blue mana, you can start using Mairsil's "5, Tap, Draw a card." ability, thanks to our caged Staff of Domination, to draw your deck. You can also make as much mana of any color. It's usually pretty easy to win the game after drawing your whole deck, and having access to any amount of mana, but my weapon of choice is Walking Ballista.

Infinite Turns

This combo requires only two cards to be caged: Sage of Hours, and Anthroplasm. Again, Mairsil needs to be ready to tap. To execute this combo, you tap Mairsil, and pay 5 mana to activate Anthroplasm’s ability, adding five, +1/+1 counters to Mairsil. Then you remove all +1/+1 counters (five) with Sage of Hour’s ability to gain an extra turn. Repeat this combo in each of your extra turns. There’s also a way to do this with Magistrate's Scepter, and Gemstone Array- or some other artifact that creates charge counters. That combo is less efficient because it requires Quicksilver Elemental (to activate Gemstone Array multiple times in a turn) and takes almost twice as much mana (nine). Taking all the turns can grate on the nerves of your fellow Commander players, but I find it quite relaxing.

Sage of Hours
Anthroplasm

For Maniacs Only

This is by far the riskiest combo of the lot, but it’s also the flashiest! No guts, no glory friends! This only requires one card to be caged: Mirror-Mad Phantasm. By using Mairsil to activate Mirror-Mad Phantasm’s ability, you’ll shuffle Mairsil into your deck. Because there will be no “Mirror-Mad Phantasm” in your deck, this results in flipping your entire library over into your graveyard - Hermit Druid style! As your library is being flipped a little Narcomoeba will find its way onto the battlefield. I can see the Dredge players grinning ear to ear right now. Once your library becomes your graveyard, you’ll use one blue mana to unearth Fatestitcher. Use Fatestitcher’s ability to untap a land, then tap it to play Gravecrawler from your graveyard. Sacrifice Narcomoeba, Fatestitcher, and Gravecrawler to cast Dread Return targeting Laboratory Maniac. For the final blow, use a blue and a colorless to flashback Deep Analysis.

Mirror-Mad Phantasm
Dread Return
Laboratory Maniac

If you want to hop on a train to magical-Christmas-land, there is a way to do this as soon as turn four (maybe turn three, but I couldn’t conjure it without my head hurting). It goes like this:

Turn One: Land, Faithless Looting

Turn Two: Land, Sol Ring, Flashback: Faithless Looting (Discarding Anger at some point).

Turn Three: Land, Tap Sol Ring and two lands to cast Panharmonicon

Turn Four: Tap Sol Ring, and three Lands cast Mairsil (floating a colorless mana).

His ability triggers twice because of Panharmonicon.

Cage: Mirror-Mad Phantasm, and Gilded Lotus.

Tap Marisil for three blue. Now you have three blue and a diamond (1UUU).

Cast Cryptic Command… errr…wait no, let’s win the game instead.

Use one blue and the colorless mana to activate Mirror-Mad Phantasm’s ability and flip your library into your graveyard (UU floating).

Narcomoeba triggers and is put on the battlefield.

Play your land for turn, triggering Bloodghast to be placed on the battlefield.

Yes, it’s still turn four. Your opponents are crying salty tears right now.

Use one blue to unearth Fatestitcher.

Use Fatestitcher’s ability to untap Sol Ring (or a land), then tap Sol Ring for mana (floating 2U).

Sacrifice Narcomoeba, Fatestitcher, and Bloodghast to flashback Dread Return targeting Laboratory Maniac.

Use that mana and the floating blue, to flashback Deep Analysis.

WIN THE GAME!

All right, we’ve peaked, the article doesn’t get more exciting than that. Or does it? We’ve talked about some of the power play’s that Mairsil is capable of, now let’s talk about how to put it together.

Right, Fast, and In a Hurry

Tipping your hand in a game of Magic can cost you greatly. This is exponentially true in a game of Commander, because you have multiple opponents. Because of this, I always try to keep my plays (especially game winning ones) concealed until the last possible moment. Haste is one of the best ability for this style of play, and it's particularly good when you want to activate a lot of abilities out-of-nowhere. Enabling Haste is a keystone in any Mairsil deck. Below you’ll find some of the old favorites for making creatures hasty, with a shout-out to the new and very under-rated Bloodsworn Steward!

Lightning Greaves
Anger
Bloodsworn Steward

Depending on your build, you can also use the options below. Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon may synergize with some of the other strategies that we’ll talk about (that’s right infect hype!).

Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon
Hall of the Bandit Lord
Swiftfoot Boots

Setting the Buffet, Mairsil is Hungry

Mairsil's ability cages cards in the graveyard or in your hand. One of the most difficult things to balance in this deck is where you'll be stashing your combo pieces. The graveyard is the most “economical” places to store things, but it's the most vulnerable in a game of Commander. Using the Dredge mechanic, or some of the cards below is a solid way to stock your graveyard.

Faithless Looting
Forbidden Alchemy
Corpse Connoisseur

You’ll notice above that I did not include Buried Alive – which is a popular choice among brewers at the moment. There are two reasons for this: Buried Alive does not fetch artifacts and it’s card disadvantage. As you’ll see in the next section, we want to avoid that as much as possible! And yes, I know Faithless Looting is also card disadvantage on the first cast, but it nets you more cards in the graveyard and it can pitch artifacts.

Caging cards from your hand is by far the safest way to cage things, and it's the best way to conceal information before making a grab at victory. It does however come at the cost of card advantage. Each card that you cage from your hand is virtually a mulligan. And let me tell you, this deck is hungry for cards to cage. This is why I think typical card draw spells won’t cut it. We need recurring, permanent-based card draw to stock our hand. We also still need to convince people how good Mystic Remora is!

Mystic Remora
Rhystic Study
Consecrated Sphinx

Collecting Things in Cages

As I've alluded to throughout the article, there are varying "speeds" in which you can build this deck. The Mirror-Mad Phantasm version lends itself to a faster build, while some grindy value versions of the deck are content to cage things one at a time, over the course of the game. Builds that lean toward combo need to cage things faster, which means we need ways to get more than one item in a cage, at each opportunity. Without access to white, “blink” effects are scarce, but these can help you get the job done.

Panharmonicon
Aetherling
Deadeye Navigator

Keep in mind, that Deadeye Navigator’s Soulbond ability is a triggered ability. This means that caging it with Mairsail does nothing. You can however Soulbond Mairsil to Deadeye Navigator for the purpose of blinking him and getting more items in the cages!

Plot Twist

Okay, we've talked about the gears that make a Mairsil deck tick, and now it's time for the decklist. You'll be delighted to know that like my Commander playstyle, I've actually concealed my strategy for building this deck for the entire article thus far. Now that we have haste, and my hand is chalked with combo pieces, it's time to go for the win!

Time Sieve

From the moment, I saw Mairsil, I knew that I was building a Time Sieve deck. Taking an extra turn is just about the most powerful thing that you can do in Magic. And while there are other ways to take extra turns with Mairsil, Time Sieve is the most systematic. What I mean is that when you build Time Sieve, you don’t simply stick in two cards for the combo. Instead you fit it into the greater system of an artifact Commander deck. This system brings functionality and flexibility, and it harmonizes with Mairsil’s key strengths. For the uninitiated, allow me to break down the Time Sieve loop, our primary win condition.

The Time Sieve loop is made possible by getting Thopter Assembly into play, and caging a Time Sieve. In your upkeep Thopter Assembly will make five thopters which you can use as Time Sieve fodder. Since Thopter Assembly returns to your hand each turn, you'll need to recast it or put it into play with Master Transmuter's ability. This loop continues until you’ve found a win way to actually end the game (usually Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas). The great thing about this combo is that it does not require Thopter Assembly to get the ball rolling. You can still use Time Sieve to take an extra turn or two, by sacrificing your other artifacts, while you put the pieces to the combo together.

It’s true, you don’t need to cage Time Sieve, but there are many benefits for doing so. First it protects your Time Sieve from getting exiled. It also helps you side step hate cards like Null Rod, or Stony Silence which would typically render an artifact deck helpless. These kinds of cards are why I don’t have a full set of the artifact lands in the list below. You’ll also notice that we’re packing an Illusionist Bracers which allows us to double the turns taken with a caged Time Sieve. If you have the combo, this doesn’t matter, but if you don’t the extra turns can help you get out of sticky situations. All right enough jibba-jabba let’s jump into the list.

Mairsil, the Pretender - Commander | Jonathan Medina


Plan B: Pew, Pew

You’ll notice that I’ve included the infinite mana combo from the beginning of the article as an alternate win condition. I made sure to build in redundancy for this plan with two artifacts that tap for 3 mana, and two untappers. I’ve also added some tutors (which can serve either combo): Fabricate and Muddle the Mixture for Time Sieve and Pili-Pala and Demonic Tutor. These tutors are coupled with Trinket Mage, who not only fetches Walking Ballista to end the game, but also various tech cards like Pithing Needle, Nihil Spellbomb, or Executioner's Capsule.

Trinket Mage is a perfect example of the flexibility that you gain by using artifact synergies. It’s because of these synergies that the infinite mana combo slots perfectly into the deck without weakening the main Time Sieve plan. They also strengthen the light planeswalker theme that we have going in the deck. The artifact backbone can even offer more ways to end the game, some of which I’m planning on testing. This next section is for my Infect lovers!

Plan C: Down with the Sickness!

Infect is such a troll way to end the game, but you can’t deny the touch of enjoyment you get out of embracing your inner troll. It’s like when you end up in front of the guy who cut you off on the highway, and you can’t help but slow down just enough to send him into a fit of road rage. That not me, but if it’s you, your inner troll should consider buying a foil Kuldotha Forgemaster and the beloved one-shot-robot Blightsteel Colossus to go with him!

Kuldotha Forgemaster
Blightsteel Colossus

Kuldotha Forgemaster is high on my may-include list for the deck, because of its tutor ability. When you add to it the fact that we’re working hard to give our creatures haste, it becomes even better. We can use Kuldotha Forgemaster’s ability (either naturally, or by caging it) to summon a Blightsteel Colossus, this sequence of plays means that a well-placed Haste-enabler means game over for one of your opponents. “Surprise! You’re dead!”

The trouble with that play is that it only gets one of your opponents. It’s also not as explosive as this next one. Here’s the recipe (for disaster): You’ll need one Cranial Plating attached to Mairsil, five other artifacts in play, and a Pestilent Souleater caged. Pay two life (or one black mana) to infect your ten-plus-power Mairsil and now you’ve build your own, one-shot robot. If you have an Aetherling caged, then you can also make him unblockable! Or if you don’t like attacking (like me), then you can use Chandra's Ignition on your infected Mairsil, and spread a fatal disease to all of your opponents. KABOOM!

Pestilent Souleater
Cranial Plating
Chandra's Ignition

Ok, now we’ve peaked.

Conclusion

One of my favorite things about Mairsil, the Pretender is that there are so many options. I’ve left a lot unsaid in this article. I didn’t talk about the crazy Jace, Vryn's Prodigy loop, reducing your opponent’s life total to four (or less) with Tree of Perdition, or one of my favorite: combining mana abilities and Cavern Harpy’s return ability with Aetherflux Reservoir to storm your opponents out. But I guess I have to leave some stuff for my other deck-build compadres to talk about. I’d love to hear your take on Mairsail, or some of the crazy things you’re building with him in the comments! I’m going to leave some shout-out love then hit the road. Have a great week everyone!

Shout-Outs

Morgan Epstein (of Moose Loot) - I wanted to give a shout-out to my good friend Morgan, he’s always been there to encourage me and help me along in my projects. From sending me care packages when I was playing Pokemon TCG (that’s right, don’t hate), to hooking me up a Foil copy of The Locust God after reading my last article, and even getting me a killer deal on these two beauties (see below) before the MTG Finance horde devour them. Thanks Morgan - you’re great man!

The PucaTrade Discord Community - I’ve heard mixed review on the PucaTrade service, but there’s no doubt that the crew over in the PucaTrade Discord have helped me build this deck and many other projects like my Commander Battle Box.

Thanks for reading. <3

Jonathan

@MedinaMakesGame


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