I’m currently fighting my way through the hardest week of school I’ve ever faced. In the past few days I’ve had regular assignments for my full course load as well as a slew of looming final project deadlines. Pile my car troubles on top of that, and suddenly I’m not going to make it to Worlds.
Needless to say, I’m pretty crushed. I wasn’t qualified for the main event, sure, but big tournaments are always a ton of fun, and I was qualified for the Northeast Challenge (the Win a Car Qualifier). In addition, I feel like the deck I was planning to play is a really good one. It’s not anything brilliantly new, just the Mannequin deck, but I qualified for the tournament extremely easily, and therefore have a lot of confidence in the deck. I figure that since I’m not going to make it to the tournament on my own, I can at least talk about the deck that I wanted to play.
I took the list almost exactly from Olivier Ruel from Grand Prix: Krakow, though I made a few changes. Usually I hate to make changes to decklists without getting some solid play experience in first, but I was facing two problems with Ruel’s original list. It had sixty-one cards, and I didn’t own Thoughseizes (at the time).
Decks with more than sixty cards were a bit of a hot topic on this site around the time of States, so I figure that I’ll throw my opinions in with the rest.
I hate playing with more than sixty cards. In my mind, you want to play with as few cards as you possibly can, and Wizards has set that threshold at sixty cards. That’s enough to make sure that you don’t need to worry too much about decking, or about losing every one of your threats to something like Cranial Extraction, so any cards more than sixty are just getting in the way.
People wrote about how they wanted a specific percentage of a specific card in their deck, and how they could only achieve this by playing with sixty-one or sixty-three cards. This is certainly one way to look at the problem; you can change percentage concentrations both by changing how many copies of a given card you play and by changing how many other cards surround that one. My problem with this is that Magic cards aren’t all exactly the same, and this necessarily means that there is one card in your deck that you like less than the rest of them. If you could truly say that every single card in your deck is as good as every single other card, then you might be able to convince me that it didn’t matter that you were playing seventy cards. The problem is that I don’t think you’ll ever find yourself in that situation.
When you stick a sixty-first card into your deck, you’re not actually slightly lowering the concentration of the other cards in your deck, you’re just packing a bonus piece of cardboard in between two other pieces of cardboard. Your draws in a given game will proceed through your deck just as though that card weren’t there, and if/when you do draw it, you will be, essentially, one draw step behind for the rest of the game. If the bonus piece of cardboard happens to be a Lonely Sandbar, well, then you can just cash it in for one mana and keep on trucking. If, on the other hand, that extra card can’t easily cycle itself for the next one, then you’re stuck behind for the rest of the game.
Of course, it’s not like you just missed a draw step. Presumably the card that you added to your deck does do something, it’s just that if that something is worse than the rest of the somethings you’re drawing towards, then you’re worse off.
This is my opinion. It might be flawed, but it’s how I feel.
Because I essentially refuse to play a sixty-one card deck, I had to settle on a card to cut. The suspects were Epochrasite, Riftwing Cloudskate, Grim Harvest, and Mouth of Ronom. I eventually settled on the Mouth, figuring that my card-drawing creatures would make sure that I had plenty of cards and, therefore, plenty of lands. Even without the Mouth, there were still twenty-five lands left, which is a hefty chunk of the decklist.
I also had to come up with a proxy for the Thoughtseizes. Given the decks that I saw while looking around the store pre-tournament, I figured that the place I would be most likely to board them in was against Pickles, and that Spell Burst could do a decent job filling the gap. It’s true that Spell Burst won’t stop their Aeon Chroniclers and probably won’t stop their Wraths or Oblivion Rings, but both cards hit morphs for just one mana, and Spell Burst has the added potential to hit Ancestral Vision and possibly even recur in a long game.
Here’s the decklist:
- 4 Shadowmage Infiltrator
- 4 Phyrexian Ironfoot
- 4 Riftwing Cloudskate
- 4 Epochrasite
- 1 Venser, Shaper Savant
- 4 Mulldrifter
- 4 Shriekmaw
The Spell Bursts, as I mentioned above, should be Thoughtseizes.
My friend Chris Ripple played the other Krakow Mannequin deck, and my friend Steve Nagy played Cheon’s Pickles deck. In the end, we finished first, second, and third, so the day was about as big a success as it could have been.
Cheon Pickles — What better way to get a look at the matchup between Cheon’s deck and Ruel’s deck is there than simply looking at the match that Cheon and Ruel played? When the two met at Krakow, Olivier took down the first game while Cheon got the next two. This is not to say that the matchup is bad, but it would certainly be hard to call it anything other than “close.” It should also be noted that, though the coverage seems to indicate otherwise, copying a Mannequin’d creature with Shapeshifter doesn’t destroy it.
As far as the Mannequin deck’s threats go, Flying is really good, and Fear is pretty good. The Pickles deck does have Phyrexian Ironfoots, but when they don’t show up then the other deck needs to do quite a bit of work to hold off Shadowmage Infiltrator. Luckily, Mulldrifter and Cloudskate (and Faerie Conclave) can fly over the top unmolested, though of course there’s always Vesuvan Shapeshifter.
However, the slow deck with counterspells is usually favored over the slow deck without, and that can certainly be true here. Cryptic Command is an amazing card against you, and it can be hard to fight through multiple Commands backed by an Ancestral Visions or Aeon Chronicler. It can also be hard to break out of the lock if they assemble it; you have plenty of ways to break it up, but they can also defend their combo.
Your sideboard is full of cards you might decide you want in this matchup, with nine possible cards to bring in (Mournwhelk, Nameless Inversion, and Thoughtseize/Spell Burst). The cards that you definitely don’t want left in your deck are Epochrasite and Profane Command, but that only gives you six slots to work with off the bat. I don’t think that you truly need the Mournwhelks, so I simply trim a Shadowmage to bring in the other seven cards. If you decide that you don’t want to worry about dead Shadowmages against Phyrexian Ironfoots, you can board two more out for the Mournwhelks, or even board them all out and leave yourself a lucky Profane Command.
Mannequin Mirror — The mirror match depends on a large number of things, but pretty important is figuring out which list the other guy is playing with. Ruel and Matej Zatlkaj played very different builds of the deck; the other guy doesn’t have Damnation, but he does have extra Vensers and Draining Whelks out of the board. People also often play with Sower of Temptation, but that card isn’t too threatening in this particular case.
Either way, Venser is the only counterspell either of you has pre-boards, so Profane Command can usually just end the game. It’s certainly worth attempting to figure out whether or not they have Venser in hand, and it’s often right to let them keep him in play just so that you won’t get hit by a Mannequin-Remand. You also both have more defense than offense, and so Epochrasite ends up being the best threat to try to actually deal damage with.
The key is to make sure that you get the most that you can out of each and every card. You might have the third-turn Evoke, fourth-turn Mannequin hand, but that’s usually not what you’re going to want to do. You’re much better off playing the Mulldrifter on turn 5, actually trading it for another one of their cards, and then bringing it back for another go-around. Because you both have a massive number of card-advantage creatures, you simply need to maximize the value of each of them to get ahead.
Your sideboard isn’t terribly exciting. Mournwhelk comes in for sure, and Nameless Inversion is definitely good against Sower of Temptation and Phyrexian Ironfoot. Thoughtseize is fine, since you’d rather trade one of your cards and lose two life for the first shot from their Mulldrifter than trade off one of your cards and watch them draw two more, but that is the best-case scenario. However, the card is also very good against Profane Command and possible Draining Whelks, so it’s worth bringing in if you have it, you just need to make sure that you slowroll it until the appropriate moment, instead of just firing it in there on the first turn. Shadowmage Infiltrator is an automatic cut, but the other five slots require a little bit more work. Cloudskate is somewhat painful to see go, because it’s one of your better attackers and because it has decent utility, but I feel that it is simply worse than your sideboard options. Finally, I trim a Shriekmaw, because its ability is simply not very good, and once it’s in play it continues to be unimpressive.
Elves — The Elf decks come out of the gates fast, so you need to make sure that you can survive until your powerhouses come online. Phyrexian Ironfoot is great at that, though there’s a chance that you might be facing down a 4/4 Wren’s Run Vanquisher the turn that he appears. Unlike the previous matchup, you should have no qualms about Evoking your creatures when you’re staring down the barrel of five power at the end of their second turn.
If you can make it to the middle of the game with a decent life total, you don’t have to worry about much beyond Imperious Perfect and Profane Command. The good news is that you can actually end games fairly quickly with this deck, so you won’t have to give your opponent more than a few turns to assemble what he needs to take you out. Profane Commands of your own are great for racing.
Your sideboard gives you an assortment of cards for this matchup. Personally, I only really like Nameless Inversion, though Bottle Gnomes and Pithing Needle aren’t exactly bad. I cut the slowest cards in the deck, the Cloudskates and two Infiltrators, and bring in the Inversions and the Needles. Pithing Needle only has two really exciting targets (Perfect and Garruk), but those both deserve some respect. You should also note that Nameless Inversion makes the target lose its creature types, so you can kill a Vanquisher no matter how many Elvish Champions they happen to have in play.
Red Aggro — This obviously plays out relatively similarly to the Elves matchup, with essentially slower creatures and faster burn. Epochrasite and Ironfoot are going to do a much better job at holding the opposing forces off (outside of Tarmogoyf), but you also need to manage your life total more carefully, since a slew of Incinerates or a solo Siege-Gang Commander can finish you off without too much hassle.
Again, it shouldn’t be too hard to wear their guys down to nothing, and so you’re just trying to make it out of the early turns with enough life to make sure you can finish the game before the last ten points come directly at your head. Shriekmaw, Cloudskate, and Mulldrifter can certainly finish games quickly, so the best draws are those with the early defense from your artifact creatures, and late-game power from your comes-into-play creatures.
You are going to sideboard out the same class of cards (the slow ones) for your Bottle Gnomes and Nameless Inversions. The Inversions might be a little bit risky, since they provide two card types for opposing Goyfs, but your opponent will have Tarfires to power him up anyways, and Inversion is a nice cheap way to clean up most problems. The Gnomes can’t actually kill much in combat, but they’ll hold off your opponent’s Mogg War Marshals and try to keep you out of burn-finish range.
If you’re planning on heading to the Win a Car tournaments, or if you’re just looking for a good deck to play in FNMs or similar, I strongly recommend this deck. It’s a blast to play and it’s extremely powerful, which is always a winning combination.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM