Breaking Mortarpod

Gerry Thompson, breaking it once again, but this time with Mortarpod. He’s got two different takes on equipment-themed decks in this article for Standard, so check it!

Now that I’ve laid out what is arguably the best Illusions decklist, it’s time to re-break it. The archetypes that I’m most scared of are the ones that brick-wall my Moorland Haunt strategy, which is a focal point in most of the grindy matchups.

Pristine Talisman is a gigantic beating, and while I think there are a number of ways to improve that strategy, we’ll leave that one be for now.

Other than Talisman, the card that has given me the most problems has been Mortarpod. While not enough to keep the Illusion squad down on its own, it’s often the final nail in the coffin, just like Pristine Talisman. I even looked at playing Mortarpods of my own, mostly as a way to gain life against Mono-Red (in conjunction with Sylvok Lifestaff).

So why is Mortarpod so good? For starters, it kills a Phantasmal Bear (or Image) or Delver of Secrets on the cheap and stays around to give you a little extra value. Later, it can entirely decimate their team with a token maker like Timely Reinforcements or Moorland Haunt. On top of that, Mortarpod on a 1/1 flier will hold off their Moorland Haunt army.

Other than just jamming Mortarpod into an existing deck like W/G Tokens or W/U Humans, I didn’t know what to do. Clearly playing an established archetype would be fine, but those decks don’t take advantage of Pod the way I wanted to. The two off-the-radar options I came up with were U/W Puresteel Paladin and U/B/x Tezzeret.

Puresteel Paladin was always that hipster deck. You didn’t quite know what was going on over there or why they chose to do what they did, but it was kind of intriguing. Puresteel Paladin is the exact type of deck that Caleb Durward and Cedric Phillips would be playing, until it became popular of course.

Here are a couple of decklists I found when I was brewing Puresteel decks:

Here’s a mostly complete list of cards that I would consider playing in a U/W Puresteel deck with some notes on each.

Vault Skirge – Probably awesome. Fuels Mox Opal, Dispatch, and Etched Champion and carries a Sword well.

Puresteel Paladin – The lynchpin. If we’re U/W, we should play four.

Trinket Mage – Gets Mox Opal to fix your mana or accelerate, gets Lifestaff to hold off aggro decks, gets Dagger to pump our hexproof guys, gets Flayer Husk if you need another dude, and can get a sideboard Nihil Spellbomb. Overall, it seems awesome.

Etched Champion / Invisible Stalker – Our main threats.

Mirran Crusader – Likely worse than Champion and Stalker, although if the metagame calls for it, could make a comeback.

Geist of Saint Traft – Likely worse than Champion, but better than Crusader.

Hero of Bladehold – A little too slow and not what we need. We’re building on synergy, not raw power.

Spellskite – Useful for protecting some of our important cards but probably worse than playing another threat. Maybe a sideboard card vs. Red.

Mentor of the Meek – Another engine but probably too slow.

Snapcaster Mage – Obviously an awesome card and perfect in a deck with a bunch of equipment, but we likely won’t have enough targets to flashback.

Kemba, Kha Regent – This one’s good for breaking open creature stalemates, like against G/W or Humans, but those decks aren’t very important right now.

Accorder’s Shield – This was mostly used to protect Puresteel from any future Dismembers, but that card doesn’t see a lot of play right now. Maybe a sideboard card but a very narrow one.

Flayer Husk – Definitely underwhelming, but again, we’re building on synergy. We need metalcraft, equipment, and expendable dudes.

Sylvok Lifestaff – Definitely need at least one maindeck and maybe another in the sideboard if they bring in Manic Vandal.

Dispatch / Dismember – Just removal spells, nothing too flashy or exciting. Of these, Dispatch is likely better, but there isn’t much worth killing. You still probably need 2-3 to kill big creatures, and Mortarpod will handle the rest.

Mana Leak – In a metagame full of creatures, this isn’t very exciting. There’s still the threat of Titans out there, so we need to play some.

Ponder – I’d love to play four Ponders if we had enough blue sources. At times, we’re digging for specific cards, and Trinket Mage even provides some shufflers.

Mortarpod – One of the best cards right now.

Mox Opal – Some acceleration and mana fixing is definitely nice.

Silver-Inlaid Dagger – Not sure if we need this. I could see situations where we have the Champ but nothing else going on, so this is probably better than a Husk or Lifestaff. Stalker into Dagger is just as hard to beat in Constructed as Limited.

Sword of Feast and Famine / Sword of War and Peace – War and Peace is definitely the best Sword right now. Protection from white is very relevant, as is the life gain ability. Making them discard with Feast and Famine often wouldn’t matter, and you’re not following up with Gideon after untapping.

Swiftfoot Boots – This one seems pretty awesome actually. I could see a lot of situations where you force their hand with a Day of Judgment and you can just come right back over the top with a Puresteel, equip with a ton of stuff, and then smash.

Moorland Haunt – This one is likely better than Nexus for what I’m trying to do.

Sideboard options:

Mental Misstep – Stops early aggression, but this deck is good at doing that already. It also protects Puresteel Paladin from Galvanic Blast, but that’s pretty narrow.

Timely Reinforcements – Gives you time to set up and provides a lot of dudes for equipment. Overall, something that should swing a close game in your favor, and that’s what you want out of a sideboard card.

Leonin Relic-Warder / Oblivion Ring – General answers to problematic cards. Some amount of these would be good.

Grand Abolisher – Awesome against control decks. It allows you to resolve your threats and connect with a Sword easily. Could potentially be maindeck in a field of control decks.

Act of Aggression – Huge against Wolf Run Ramp, which might be the worst matchup.

Flashfreeze – Solidifies the counter base against Wolf Run. Overall, we might need a couple.

Negate / DissipateMana Leak is probably enough against Control, so these are unnecessary.

Nihil Spellbomb – Solid sideboard card against Solar Flare. Wouldn’t mind playing one if we had room.

Celestial Purge – General answer card against Mono-Red or some Infect decks. Probably not necessary since those decks are few and far between. We could play removal that is good against everyone.

Shrine of Loyal Legions – A great anti-control card, but we aren’t looking to create an army against them. I’d be more inclined to sideboard another hard-to-kill threat like Geist of Saint Traft instead.

Gideon Jura – Awesome card against aggressive decks but not one that we need. We probably have the late game on lock. I’d be more interested in playing cheap removal.

Invisible Stalker is another creature I’ve been looking at, as it supplements the equipment strategy quite well. Against decks like Illusions, the Mortarpod deck will be the control deck, but against control, we need an unkillable threat. Etched Champion is our go-to guy, but Stalker provides reasonable backup. If you’re facing a deck with Day of Judgment, you want to be able to follow it up with another hard-to-kill threat.

Honestly, most of the cards I’m interested in playing are blue. Puresteel would be the lynchpin but is by no means necessary. From my experience playing against Puresteel decks, they only win against unprepared opponents. The other times they win are when you keep a hand with a single removal spell, and they somehow manage to stick two Puresteels. That type of situation is especially annoying considering most decks can beat everything else other than an active Puresteel.

Hero of Bladehold and Mirran Crusader are fine cards, but they are just dudes. I would likely play Vault Skirge for the synergy, and Etched Champion and/or Invisible Stalker if I needed hard-to-kill threats. Mentor of the Meek is a fine engine when it works, but it’s much worse than Puresteel Paladin and doesn’t quite dominate the game a Puresteel or other real threat like Hero of Bladehold would.

Past that, you’ve got Dispatch, which is just a removal spell, and some sideboard cards. I wanted to look elsewhere.

It seemed like some of the Worlds competitors had beaten me to the punch. One of the National teams showed up with a very interesting burn/Tezzeret hybrid.

For reference:

The burn package is definitely awesome against some decks, but it’s probably not needed right now. I could see you wanting it against the Solar Flares of the world, but there aren’t too many of those. Some reach would be welcome against Wolf Run Ramp, but if you have enough disruption and hard-to-kill threats, you should be okay there too.

This is what I want to do:

The main question would be — Is Tezzeret better than Puresteel Paladin? Tezzeret is easier to cast, albeit more expensive, but puts way more pressure on Control and Ramp decks, which is where these decks are going to need the help.

This type of deck, one that works on synergy, needs an engine in place. Puresteel Paladin is very vulnerable, and anyone who wants to stop your engine is going to be able to. Tezzeret can be attacked, but he protects himself well. Oblivion Ring is obviously a problem, but you’ve already gotten value.

Sideboard options:

Bloodline Keeper – This is basically Moorland Haunt but doesn’t double as a mana source. It’s easy to kill or Vapor Snag for a couple turns, so it’s not something I’m interested in.

Sever the Bloodline – This one is pretty awesome against Sun Titan decks, but we have access to Trinket Mage and Nihil Spellbomb, and I’d rather fight them that way.

Dissipate – We could use the help against Control. Negate is another option, but I’d rather be able to stop a Titan or Elesh Norn.

Mental Misstep – Stops early aggression but doesn’t protect any of our threats. I’d rather have a removal spell.

Curse of Death’s Hold – This is a great card for locking out Moorland Haunt, but it’s so slow! They probably want to bring in Revoke Existence or Oblivion Ring anyway, so it’s just going to get caught in the crossfire.

Flashfreeze – We could use the help against Wolf Run Ramp, but Dissipate could help there too. We’d probably play both if we had room.

Liliana of the Veil – This could be used as a threat against Control and an answer to Geist of Saint Traft or Thrun, the Last Troll. I’m not too scared of hexproof guys, and we have no way to break the parity of Liliana’s +1 ability (like flashback).

Pristine Talisman – This is another Moorland Haunt answer and one that probably deserves more attention. If you’re playing Control, you should have these, but it’s not necessary in this deck. It also doesn’t fit the curve well and isn’t a very powerful sideboard card.

Ratchet Bomb – Great against Illusions and Mono-Red, but there is a large chance it’ll blow up our own permanents as well. We can do better.

Phyrexian Metamorph – I’d rather have Liliana to kill hexproof guys, even if I could find this with Tezzeret.

Despise – This one is sort of like a Flashfreeze, except it’s really bad when they are in topdeck mode.

Spellskite – This one might be necessary to stop their sideboard hate. It also functions as a removal spell by invalidating their Phantasmal Bear or whatever they have.

Skirsdag High Priest – This guy seems awesome and underrated. I’ll go more in-depth below.

Surgical ExtractionNihil Spellbomb is better.

Disperse – Do we need answers to random permanents? An answer would be nice to have, but we don’t explicitly need it.

Hex Parasite – A solid Trinket Mage target against Illusions. I’d play one if we had room.

Batterskull – This could be used as your big bomb against aggro decks, but it doesn’t stop problematic cards like Shrine of Burning Rage or Hero of Bladehold. It likely won’t connect either, since your maindeck is full of artifacts, and they will bring in whatever removal they had. I’d be more willing to sideboard a big colored creature than an artifact.

Molten-Tail Masticore – Basically the same thing as Batterskull, only slightly better.

Nihil Spellbomb – Awesome. Playing one or two copies for sure.

Precursor Golem – If no one is playing removal that hits it, it’s an awesome card. However, it doesn’t fit with our strategy.

Act of Aggression – Solid finisher against Titan decks.

Consecrated Sphinx – Might be nice against Control but not very impressive.

Of these, I narrowed the sideboard down to this:

1 Act of Aggression
2 Nihil Spellbomb
3 Dissipate
2 Flashfreeze
2 Skirsdag High Priest
2 Spellskite
1 Hex Parasite
2 Virulent Wound

The card I’m most excited about is Skirsdag High Priest. Morbid is easily achieved in Constructed, and High Priest can lock out some decks like W/G, Humans, and Illusions. If it ends up being playable against Wolf Run Ramp, it could be maindeckable.

We need more early removal, and Virulent Wound seems like the best fit. Poison victories aren’t out of the ordinary, but most of the time it’s from two five-power hits from Nexus. I’d rather have Wound because it fills out the curve and does most of what Wring Flesh would do. Another Doom Blade-type card wouldn’t be the worst, but I really wanted something super cheap.

As I said earlier, Act of Aggression is a great finisher against Wolf Run Ramp and one that they don’t typically expect. While I would side it in against Humans with a more aggressive deck like Illusions, I wouldn’t with this one. The Mortarpod deck is always the control deck, so you don’t need this effect.

Dissipates and Flashfreezes give you a little added permission against Control and Ramp. You definitely need the help in those matches, and those are the best cards for the job.

Maybe the burn version is better because it should be better against Wolf Run and Control, but I like the look of the U/B version. You don’t have to mess with an ambitious manabase, and your plan becomes more streamlined.

The bigger Zoo deck often beats the little Zoo deck, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a lot more midrange aggro decks popping up in the near future. At that point, Ramp and Control will make a huge comeback, so you need to strike quickly! I think right now is that time, so get brewing.


BONUS: Check out this spicy U/B Infect deck a former Player of the Year piloted to a 4-0 finish in a Daily Event:

I’d like to see some Corrupted Resolves in there, but other than that, it looks pretty good.