Feature Article – Mannequin in Shadowmoor Standard

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Thursday, April 24th – Shadowmoor is coming, and everyone wants the new tech for their next Constructed tournament. Today, Luis Scott-Vargas presents us with his updated version of the once-dominant Makeshift Mannequin strategy, and shares a list packed with synergy and power. He looks at how Faeries might adapt with the addition of Shadowmoor, and he even brings us a Vintage list for good measure!

Much has been theorized about how Shadowmoor is going to affect Standard, but since the set isn’t out yet it’s tough to get any real testing done. I got tired of writing about what could happen, and decided to do a little playtesting with the aid of proxies, despite a general aversion to such a practice. They are useful for what they do, but I find that testing and playing go better with real cards. Even if you know what the cards are supposed to be, you still don’t always process without thinking about it more than you normally would. Anyway, my feelings about proxies aside, I wanted to run some games with Shadowmoor incorporated into my decks. One of the decks was sure to be Faeries, since it was public enemy number one coming into the new format. Zac Hill had a solid list, although I don’t like maindeck Sower at the moment (so I took it out):

This might look suspiciously light on Shadowmoor cards, but there really isn’t anything too exciting to add. I think upgrading two Swamps into Sunken Ruins should help you play Cryptic Commands with consistency. Sunken Ruins can’t suspend Visions on turn 1, so two is about all I would recommend. Cutting Swamps also seems fine since I expect Fulminator Mage to be much more played than Magus of the Moon. So that is the enemy, much the same as before. Now what to bash it against? Well, after deciding to play Mannequin two weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised with the results. The deck played out pretty smoothly, and rarely ran out of gas. You get to play with a lot of pretty powerful cards, and Shadowmoor offers some interesting goodies.

4 Makeshift Mannequin
4 Mulldrifter
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Cloudthresher
3 Shriekmaw
3 Profane Command
4 Wall of Roots
2 Primal Command
3 Into the North
3 Thoughtseize
3 Nameless Inversion

4 River of Tears
4 Treetop Village
3 Vivid Grove
3 Snow-Covered Forest
4 Llanowar Wastes
2 Snow-Covered Swamp
1 Mouth of Ronom
1 Frost Marsh
1 Gilt-Leaf Palace

That was where I started, with the list I had before. Not only does Shadowmoor offer some improvements, I also wanted to change how the deck played. Aside from Goyf and Treetop, it was hard to get out a threat against Faeries, and putting them on a decent clock is really the best way to fight the battle. If you can get some source of damage out there, a source that they have to actively handle, it gives you a window to resolve a bomb like a Thresher, Mannequin, or some type of Command.
What I ended up doing was adding 3 Murderous Redcaps and 3 Kitchen Finks, giving the deck more low-end drops that could attack. Both these guys also help in a race, and both provide some nice card advantage. Mannequin on either of them isn’t too shabby either. I considered adding Dusk Urchin and Fulminator Mage, but both those seemed to pack less of a punch than the above inclusions. Birds of Paradise is another card I considered, especially since I added another three-drop, but I really like the Vivid Lands and they don’t play well with Birds. Reworking the manabase and a few cuts later, and we get this:

I’m still not entirely sure about the mana, although it worked out pretty well in testing. Reflecting Pool is really nice with a Vivid Grove or even the painlands, but doesn’t provide a new source of color. The one Dreadship Reef may seem random, but I like chargelands, and it allows Reflecting Pool to add U or B. I also didn’t want another painland, even though Kitchen Finks helps in that regard. Now that this deck has more three-drops and a natural curve, Into the North just didn’t seem that great. I did add a 24th land to compensate, and haven’t missed the acceleration. Turn 1 tapped land, Turn 2 Goyf or Thoughtseize, Turn 3 evoke Drifter or play a Kitchen Finks is really what you are looking for.

After playing 20 games without sideboards, Mannequin seems like it can hold its own against Faeries. The final score was 11-9 in favor of Faeries, but I don’t take that as a bad sign. The games were usually close, and often hinged on how aggressive a start the Mannequin deck could provide. One really important thing that I constantly see people not taking advantage of is Treetop Village. I just love getting in there with Treetops, and do it over casting spells all the time. It is a really good way to pressure control decks, Faeries in particular. Some Faeries decks don’t even play maindeck Inversions, and thus you really have no reason not to get in free damage. Kitchen Finks was reasonable against Faeries, as the game really does turn into a race often enough. If they are decent enough here, they certainly deserve a maindeck spot, since they should just be awesome against Red. Speaking of Red, Redcap was a good Shriekmaw replacement. Granted, you can’t Redcap a Mistbind Clique, but other than that, Redcap is far better. It kills a Bitterblossom token or just domes for two instead of sitting in hand uncastable like Shriekmaw. I’m not even entirely sure you need the last Shriekmaw, but I do think you might want to Primal Command for it versus some huge beast on the other side. I was pretty happy overall with how this played out, especially since I anticipate bringing in better stuff than Faeries can muster.

Sideboards! Unfortunately, I did not play any sideboarded games, as 20 games was quite enough for the day. Still, I think we can take a look at prospective sideboard for some useful information. First, let’s see what Faeries might bring to the table…

From Zac Hill article:

4 Bottle Gnomes
2 Thoughtseize
3 Flashfreeze
2 Deathmark
4 Peppersmoke

This seems pretty reasonable, and I don’t initially see a good spot in which to fit Murderous Redcap. That’s about the only card I think I would want to add from Shadowmoor. Against Mannequin the Thoughtseizes definitely come in, as well as the Flashfreezes. Especially with hybrid, Flashfreeze counters enough opposing spells that it should be effective. The easy cuts are Inversions, as they don’t kill Goyf and aren’t really what you want to do against a Finks or a Redcap. Conveniently enough, Flashfreeze counters all the above-mentioned cards. Beside the three Inversions, we go to the much abused Pestermite for the next two slots. Pestermite really is the whipping boy of Faeries, as it gets made the most fun of and it’s sided out the most. Still, every list has him, so he’s gotta be doing something right.

As for Mannequin, the sideboard is pretty wide open. Here is where I would start:

2 Primal Command
2 Shriekmaw
3 Chameleon Colossus
1 Cloudthresher
4 Raking Canopy
2 Mind Shatter
1 Woodfall Primus

I really love Primal Command right now, as it’s so hard for a Red deck to beat it. Especially when you can grab a Kitchen Finks, Shriekmaw, or Murderous Redcap depending on the situation… it really packs a punch. The one Woodfall Primus might be terrible, but Commanding for him to kill a random enchantment or artifact might be doable. Let’s look at how we would board with this versus Faeries. You want to bring in the 4 Canopies, 1 Thresher, and 3 Chameleons, so that’s eight. I would ditch the Primal Commands and the Shriekmaw for starters, as they are expensive and of limited use. Past that, it gets a little tougher. Since you are adding new threats in the form of Chameleons, the Kitchen Finks can probably go, as well as one of the Redcaps. That leaves us with just one more card to take out, and I think it should be Profane Command. Despite its power, any expensive sorcery speed card just gets Rune Snagged or Cryptic Commanded, and that just doesn’t do it for me.

I like this sideboard plan, although Raking Canopy is the great unknown. Yes, it stops almost all of their attacks (except for a Mistbind Clique with a Scion in play), but it doesn’t pressure them in and of itself. Just playing a Canopy won’t win you the game, as they will eventually Cryptic Command it back and bash in for a ton of damage. Still, a Canopy plus any sort of pressure will make it very difficult for Faeries to both assemble a force and have a spare Cryptic Command to burn on the Canopy. Here is where I have to give the same cop out you have all been hearing these last few weeks before Shadowmoor landed. Try it out and see. I suspect Raking Canopy is solid in a deck that can pressure Faeries, but certainly isn’t just game over like some people might assume it is. As for what the Faeries versus Mannequin matchup would look like after boarding, I think Mannequin should improve more than Faeries. Faeries just got to add in more counters, a resource of which it already had plenty. Mannequin got a bunch of new hard-to-handle threats. Ever seen a Bitterblossom try and race a Chameleon Colossus? It’s not pretty.

I played this Mannequin list quite a bit before Shadowmoor, and the results indicate that it is good post-Shadowmoor as well. I was favored against aggressive Red due to the Wall of Roots, Goyfs, and Primal Commands before, and the format shifting helps us more than them. Granted, Red gets Jackal Pup and Char, but now we are maindecking 3 Kitchen Finks and 3 Murderous Redcaps. By now the virtues of Kitchen Finks against Red are well known, and imagine siding up to 4 Primal Commands and 3 Finks. Unless Everlasting Torment becomes popular, you shouldn’t lose to Red very often. In the case that Everlasting Torment does become popular, it is easy enough to add some enchantment kill to the sideboard. I don’t think most Red decks want a three-mana spell that doesn’t affect the board or do damage, but if the Kitchen is infested with Finks, desperate measures must be taken.

Besides Red and Faeries, there are a bunch of midrange decks running around. I think with 4 Mannequins and 5 Commands, Mannequin is pretty well set up to fight other long game decks. Siding in Mind Shatters also helps, as they really shine in the slow matchups where nobody has counterspells of any kind.

Once Shadowmoor is officially released and legal in tournaments, much more will be known about the format. Still, I took a reasonable stab at playing with the new cards against what a think was a reasonable facsimile of how Faeries is going to look now. Hopefully the information I yielded was of use, as I really do think Mannequin is a pretty solid deck. I may like drawing cards more than most, but it actually seems good even when taking my bias into account. Getting to abuse both Kitchen Finks and Murderous Redcap with Mannequin seems like good times, as they are among the set’s best new cards.

I will be checking the forums for questions, and that’s probably the best way to reach me. I haven’t really bothered with MTGO for a while, as V3 isn’t exactly the most usable product at the moment (unfortunately).

Until next time!


For those who care about Vintage, David Ochoa and I played this at a local Mox tournament, where Ochoa ended up splitting in the finals. It’s pretty good, a little faster than Oath, and quite consistent. Flash is still a crapshoot, but that’s kind of how the deck is. Plus, any excuse to play Necro and Dark Confidant works for me.