Deconstructing Constructed – Mannequin Uses In Standard

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Today we’ll be taking a break from the endless amount of Faeries articles I’ve written, and instead focus on some of the other odder Standard decks floating around. A few of these have seen play in various 8-mans on MTGO, while others have merely been my side-projects after refining Faeries. The most interesting concept to utilize has come largely from the Makeshift Mannequin decks floating around since Grand Prix: Krakow.

Today we’ll be taking a break from the endless amount of Faeries articles I’ve written, and instead focus on some of the other odder Standard decks floating around. A few of these have seen play in various 8-mans on MTGO, while others have merely been my side-projects after refining Faeries. The most interesting concept to utilize has come largely from the Makeshift Mannequin decks floating around since Grand Prix: Krakow. Between the Mannequin and Profane Command you can have a powerful recursion engine capable of being abused in far more ways than just the B/U build. So we shall first start with different shells for this engine.

First, let’s take a look at Ruel’s build from GP: Krakow, and think about what’s changed between the GP and now.

Not a whole lot, yeah. The only real difference is people are moving toward control and more disruptive aggro decks to combat control decks. Otherwise, the GP basically solidified many people into playing Pickles, Sonic Boom, or Mannequin due to their high matches across the field* and the fact that they have better odds on beating the outlier decks.

* Okay, so Sonic Boom still sucks against aggro and is being played in response to all the control.

The Mannequin build Ruel used has a large number of slots devoted purely to beating types of swarm aggro (Elves and Gruul), which translates very poorly into other matches. Meanwhile, his cards against control decks are limited because he can’t directly interact with the stack outside of Venser, Shaper Savant, which is a one-of. The deck additionally has a more limited drawing apparatus than some of the builds seen in various forums, in large part due to the main draw being Shadowmage Infiltrator and Mulldrifter. Obviously getting the Big Mulls engine going has the capacity to overwhelm just about any deck in the format. However, many times you won’t be able to get this online until you’ve either taken control of the game or successfully duped a control player into a position where you got Mannequin to resolve.

For many people, this just isn’t going to happen too often, which means trying to build a window to sneak through card advantage. This is done off small edges like mana denial via Riftwing Cloudskate, Venser, and cheap creature removal like Shriekmaw. Again though, realistically the deck is going to gain a large advantage against aggressive decks by simply trading with comes-into-play guys and recurring them. This stays the same when using different sets of comes-into-play guys, as long as one says ‘Shriekmaw’ somewhere on it. However, against control, if you alter the creature configuration you can gain an edge by forcing a disruption fight against the opponent on different terms. For example, in the board Ruel had Mournwhelk to force various Blue opponents to deal with his men and engine, even if the clock was slow.

In this aspect, by changing certain slots the engine can help gain you percentage points against control decks. Augur of Skulls is dirt-cheap, can sneak under counter nets on the play, and can go to work immediately stressing out opponents resources. Unlike older formats in which the control builds all had easy ways to reload like Fact or Fiction, Gifts Ungiven, or even Tidings, decks in the current Standard metagame have mainly cantrips or slower and smaller ways to recoup cards. The exception would be Ancestral Visions, with its own set of issues concerning speed, which is why it sees limited play at the moment. Back to Augur though; in this type of deck the creature is truly at home, since you can take full advantage of slight edge and turn it into a large one. Consider that a turn 2 or 3 Augur can be recurred as early as turn 4 via Mannequin and immediately force another discard if done on upkeep (thank you Mind Stone). Trading two for four is a practical blowout considering the slow ways control decks have to regain card advantage.

Skred Red? Wow, two cards and maybe the Scrying Sheets engine to fall back on.
Mannequin? Better hope you can start recurring Mulldrifter in a hurry.
Pickles? Only have Ancestral Visions to recover if this chain actually happens.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’ll be easy to pull this sort of move off. Simply that you gain an avenue of attack, considering the limited ways they have to recover. Meanwhile you don’t necessarily have a dead card against aggro decks due to the nifty regeneration abilities of the Skull. Other creatures like Avalanche Riders and Detritivore can also open up attack routes in the board of the deck, simply by switching colors.

For example, consider such a creature base:

3 Avalanche Riders
4 Shriekmaw
4 Siege-Gang Commander
4 Augur of Skulls
4 Phyrexian Ironfoot / Mogg War Marshall

Again, I’m not saying this is optimal, merely that by switching the default colors, you gain tools against control while keeping good weapons for aggro decks. Siege-Gang Commander is the “oomph” threat that Mannequin lacks, and which can be leveraged against nearly any archetype. Remember how in an earlier article I lambasted some Mannequin builds for being unable to beat fliers without just getting a bunch of its own out? In this case, it wouldn’t have to. Simply get SGC resolved, or recurse it into play, and suddenly you have three or more mini-Shocks to leverage against my army. The same can be said for any non-burn spell aggro deck in the format, but against those the 1/1 army can largely trade or stall anyway.

Instead of temporary mana denial or card drawing, your choices become forcing discard, getting a threat that can end the game in a few attacks / shots if unimpeded. As for dealing with aggressive decks, you still have Shriekmaw and likely Ironfoot to fight them with. Between those two and Profane Command you can make your resources last a surprisingly long time, killing three to four creatures with only two cards and saving yourself significant damage in the meantime, unlike Damnation.

Now assuming you don’t think the automatic plan is to just run Blue (or simply cut it down to a possible splash color), you gain in another area too. You can now run the following:

4 Skred
3-4 Chandra Nalaar
X Detritivore

As Chapin mentioned on Monday in his article on Skred Red, by playing Red along with snow lands you gain one of the best removal spells currently legal. In fact by playing this configuration you can run the three best in the format (Skred, Shriekmaw, and Damnation) if you choose. Skred is amazing right now, because running snow itself is a small drawback, and when you use it to kill a creature you’ll have spent less mana on it than they did playing the threat in the first place. As for the ubiquitous Planeswalker you gain with Red, I’ll let Chapin explain:

“Chandra was originally a very misunderstood Planeswalker, much like Liliana Vess. She can be a source of card advantage removal, shooting a creature as soon as she comes into play, which will hopefully stabilize things enough so that she build up enough counters to shoot down something else. If your opponent is not all out attacking you, she threatens to go Ultimate in three turns, which I have yet to see anyone survive. In addition, she has so much loyalty that even if she goes down in combat, she will absorb a fair amount of damage, a very useful feature in a Mono-Red Control deck. My goodness, is she sick versus Mannequin!”
Chapin on Chandra from his Skred Red article.

As for Detritivore, against Pickles and Mannequin it blows up roughly 40-60% of the opponent’s lands, and it can’t be taken care of via normal means. In this type of build it combos nicely with maindeck or sideboard LD such as Avalanche Riders, Boom/Bust, and Cryoclasm, where you can knock an opponent out of the game without ever needing to get a major threat online. I don’t think you’d necessarily have the room in the maindeck, but I would definitely want some in the sideboard.

Reanimation itself stays largely the same:

3-4 Makeshift Mannequin
2-3 Profane Command

Mannequin’s virtues have been espoused upon before as being a great trick to regain resources and basically just mess with the opponent’s game plan at will. The card is a mini-engine in this type of deck, working like Momentary Blink, but better because you aren’t as limited in the timing of the effect. Profane Command can be downright disgusting once you ramp up the mana to abuse it. Even if it’s only being used to return an Augur of Skulls or Ironfoot, you can kill a creature and translate the creature into at least one more card, if not more. I doubt anyone needs to explain what happens once ramped up to the seven mana mark to bring back Big Mulls, SCG, etc…

The advantage you gain from this configuration is that you are set-up to abuse the snow engine at no real cost to the deck. Scrying Sheets and Mouth of Ronom fit well in this deck; serving the same function it does in UW Snow and Skred Red, allowing you to hit land drops on a consistent basis. You get the best of both worlds with the snow engine, Sheets for land drops and Mouth of Ronom for Teferi vs. control and Ironfoot / Skred versus aggro.

General set-up
3-4 Mind Stone

24-25 land
6-9 Snow-Covered Swamp
4 Tresserhorn Sinks
3-6 Snow-Covered Mountain
4 Scrying Sheets
2-3 Mouth of Ronom
0-4 Graven Cairns (It depends how much risk you want in your mana, I run three despite the non-snowiness)

Possible extra board options include Martyr of Ashes, Grim Harvest, and Extirpate against other graveyard dependent decks.

As for other possibilities without the Mannequin, instead focusing more on the Grim HarvestProfane Command aspects of blowing people out… then we have a modified build of Shouta Yasooka — Brave Phoenix deck.

Yasooka’s original design was very intriguing to me, because of how much power he managed to cram into such a small package. He did this at the cost of his manabase, which was a painful ordeal to sort out featuring 10 comes-into-play-tapped lands, 4 Graven Cairns, and 4 Grove of the Burnwillows to support multiple double costs all over the deck. Although this configuration can work, it made you take a lot of intuitive guesses against aggressive decks about how much damage you’d be taking and where it was coming from. If you could constantly keep up with this information, then you could make a number of plays that would usually get you by the skin of your teeth. Once the mana came online, the deck was ridiculously overpowered.

Consider this: Tarmogoyf, Shriekmaw, Garruk Wildspeaker, and Siege-Gang Commander. All of these cards are incredibly strong and can slowly take over a game while being of high value on offense or defense. The only purely defensive power card Yasooka ran in the deck was Damnation, and to me it was arguable if he even needed them versus Wall of Roots or Bottle Gnomes. My main project was to try and make the mana and deck more streamlined, but eventually I gave up when I realized past a few cosmetic changes like dumping Nath and fiddling with the Fertile Ground to Mind Stone ratio I couldn’t make the deck really anymore streamlined without reducing its power.

However, using it as a baseline I realized I could modify the deck into an aggressive deck that could still play control for most of the game, but then it could turn power cards on like the Planeswalkers or Profane Command, and just wipe out the opponent.

3 Masked Admirers
3 Doran, the Siege Tower
3 Bottle Gnomes
4 Shriekmaw
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Saffi Eriksdotter

4 Garruk Wildspeaker
2 Liliana Vess
2 Grim Harvest
2 Profane Command

4 Fertile Ground

4 Vivid Thicket
2 Vivid Marsh
4 Llanowar Wastes
3 Brushland
2 Caves of Koilos
3 Forest
3 Plains
2 Swamp
2 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

The first major note is that Fertile Ground is ridiculous in this type of build, and combining it with Garruk for any period of time is basically game over. Using them together can allow you to cast multiple odd casting-cost spells on the same turn, or abuse the Grim Harvest / Profane Command engine. You gain the dumb beater that is Doran (replacing Call of the Herd effectively since it’s Maw and Ironfoot proof), but also Saffi which can allow for multiple Gnomes and Maw usages in the first four turns of the game. With Grim Harvest you can also do the soft lock Teachings and Mannequin decks can pull off. Admirers, Liliana, and Garruk all combine to give you another set of self-powering engines.

When looking at the deck, you may wonder what exactly the focus is, but that’s really the key of this version of Phoenix and Yasooka’s. The creatures and pieces of each engine are to let you survive until you hit a mana flashpoint and can bring the engines to full steam on the opponent. Once that happens, you can take control of the game and destroy an aggro deck without too much trouble. However, versus control the idea becomes to use your men as simple dumb beaters, using each card as a self-contained threat that has to be dealt with in some way. Control typically can’t leave the Planeswalkers sitting around, nor can they keep killing Admirers over and over again and expect to win the prize.

All that said, this certainly isn’t the only option for this type of deck. It could be that Saffi and Bottle Gnomes are too cute for the deck, and instead you want to try your luck with Damnation and Call of the Herd or a similar mid-range creature. Wall of Roots helps mana production as well as the early defense, but can’t beat down ever, or lock an aggro deck out via Grim Harvest. Everything is a trade-off with this deck, and it’ll determine how many hands you can play aggressively against the control portion of the field.

I’ve done enough tuning and rough testing that I’m not being the wrong side of a donkey here when talking about them, but if you try one of these out don’t expect it to automatically be better than the UB Mannequin version. Instead, see how you could try a different execution with these kinds of cards, which can be self-contained engines with the right supporting cast. Good luck for all those playing at the various Worlds tournaments, and see you next week.

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom