Every day across the nation, some scrubby kid learns that by playing some elves he can get Multani, Maro Sorceror into play by turn four. It's too bad that John down at the comic book store counters that guy when the kid tries to cast it, and then serves with Morphling for five.
Most of us have grown up. We've been enthralled with the idea of big creature beatdown, but we've traded that pleasure for something a bit more sweet... Winning.
But what if I told you that you can have all the thrills of laying the smackdown on your opponent with one of the biggest beasties ever printed, and you win tournaments this way?
Have you heard of Illusionary Mask? More likely you're familiar with Phyrexian Dreadnought. Put them together and you have the basis for a successful type one archetype. This is a comprehensive piece introducing and describing the deck simply known as Mask.
The crux of the deck is a combo of Illusionary Mask and Phyrexian Dreadnought. A surprising DCI rules decision made in the winter of 2001 allows Phyrexian Dreadnought's, or any creature's for that matter,"comes into play" ability to be negated if played through the Mask. As if playing a first-turn 12/12 creature off of a Dark Ritual wasn't strong enough, the creature is uncounterable if the Mask resolves.
Winning in Type One
In a homogenized format such as OBC where the span of legal cards limits the variety of viable archetypes, one of the best paths to success is by beating a small number of well-defined decks using a deck often tuned by other people through professional tournaments. In Type One, it's more difficult to anticipate what you will play against - nor will you find many properly tuned, tested and optimized decks. As a result, you will be expected to beat random decks by inexperienced players as well as be able to win matches against finely tuned well-known archetypes. Thus, metagaming becomes a more matter of being able to defeat a random field while having strong matchups against well-established archetypes, bolstered by a selectively decided sideboard.
Although Mask has been around for nearly a year now, it is the most underplayed deck in type one for its strength. Mask slaughters random decks, fits well as a metagame deck against well-established high level type one archetypes, and because of its relatively unknown status is not prepared for.
For those of you fortunate enough to be reading this article, you are going to be let onto Type One's best-kept secret - and will have a major advantage going into your next tournament if you decide to play this deck or simply learn what to expect should you face it.
The Spanish Inquisition
3 City of Brass
3 Gemstone Mine
3 Underground Sea
2 Polluted Delta
1 Bloodstained Mire
2 Snow-Covered Swamp (I originally wondered at the inclusion of these, but have since been told by helpful readers that it helps with the Tainted Pacts- The Ferrett, slightly saddened to see that it's NOT just for the cool factor)
Some explanations are in order. The question of which colors to fit around the combo is answered by two questions and bolstered by a third; First, what color(s) give this deck the best way to get the cards it needs as quickly and efficiently as possible (Search)? Second, what color(s) best protect the combo (Protection)? Third, what color(s) best provide paths to victory even if the combo fails (Alternate Strategy)?
The answer to the first question is obviously black. Black was endowed with a range of efficient tutors: Vampiric Tutor, Demonic Tutor, and Demonic Consultation and arguably the most broken card drawer ever (besides Ancestral Recall): Necropotence. And outside of blue, black has the best second-tier search such as Tainted Pact.
The problem with blue as the primary color or strong secondary color around the combo is that it lacks synergy. Blue is inherently slow, but inherently powerful. The fastest blue gets in a viable Vintage deck is in something like Chapin Gro: With Mask, you want to play the combo out immediately, and having a heavy blue build would require either a lot of pitch magic or else suggest that the deck slow down in order to accommodate hard counterspells. We attempted a version using heavy blue, but when you look at the key cards that need to be in a deck like this, and the synergy of Dark Ritual - the number of blue spells that can fit isn't enough to support all the desired pitch magic and so forth. At a much cheaper price and with greater synergy, in the form of the search and mana accelerant Dark Ritual, Black offers focused discard spells like Duress, Hymn to Tourach, and Unmask to protect the combo.
Finally, Black offers the best chances if the combo doesn't come out. In Type One Suicide Black, Phyrexian Negator and Hypnotic Specter are primary win conditions; here, they are simply supplemental cards that are capable of taking this deck to victory in a pinch.
The earliest proponent of this deck, Chris Flaaten and friends of Norway, used a mono black build. However, we assure you that adding blue increases the potency of this deck. Besides providing the obvious Ancestral Recall and the MVP Time Walk, adding additional colors makes Tainted Pacts better, the fetchlands allow more colors to be used without the same vulnerability to Back to Basics, and additional colors add greater flexibility.
The deck is built in lots of threes for a reason: It makes Tainted Pacts that much better. Your tainted pacts basically become a miniature tutor - you can get greedy. The only cards that used get in a full set are Duress, Dark Ritual, Tainted Pact, Illusionary Mask, Phyrexian Dreadnought and Phyrexian Negator; this significantly affects what shows up with Tainted Pacts.
One issue that is arguable is whether Recoil should be used over Seal of Cleansing. Having played with both, we agree that Seal of Cleansing is far superior. The casting cost being one cheaper is the primary reason, with another compelling one being the prevalence of Misdirection.
One of the most important cards in this deck is Necropotence. With the quantity of tutors, it is not uncommon to be aggressively using the card with a frequency not less than once every other match.
You may be asking yourself now,"What do I need to know to be able to play this deck?" First of all, there are plenty of rulings on the Mask itself, some highlights are as follows:
1. While face down, your creatures are 0/1 colorless creatures with casting cost zero.
2. You can turn over your creatures whenever you have priority. So if someone thinks they're cute and pops a powder keg for zero, you can just flip your guys over. Playing against Powder Keg means winning mind games with your opponent, and you should be aware that keeping your cards face down for a while can cause your opponent to make a critical error.
3. When you put a creature into play face down, you must put counters on it to represent how much mana you spent when it was played and remove them when you flip it up.
While Mask is rather straight forward, the critical decisions that affect the entire game will generally be made very early on and must be well thought out. The primary objective is simply to efficiently and intelligently order the search, discard, and combo. If that task is decided in the right order, winning will be much easier.
To make that point more tangible, an opening hand will generally include parts of the combo, some search, and some discard. In some cases you may want to play the search before the combo, or the combo before the search. This is almost entirely dependent upon the exact context and whether in the opening hand you have the Mask, Dreadnought, both or neither.
As a general rule you want to play discard immediately to remove creature removal, counterspells, or tutors and card drawing that could search up creature removal or counterspells. The next objective is to get the Mask into play. Without the Mask, the Dreadnoughts are useless. Then once the Mask is in play, you want to slip a Dreadnought into play.
It is also important that you don't overcommit to the board. Because Mask wins in such a short amount of time, playing another Dreadnought after you have swung with your first one can be dangerous - and unnecessary, since you will win next turn with one anyway.
If possible and intelligent at the time, you always pay more for Dreadnought than one because it will truly serve to disguise the creature. If you pay three, they will almost assuredly plan for a Phyrexian Negator or a Hypnotic Specter - but really, you've got a 12/12 on the way. (Doesn't sound like much of a mind game to me if someone knows the deck, but it might work extremely well against a few randoms - The Ferrett, possibly showing great ignorance)
Another aspect of playing this deck to keep in mind is the value of aggressive mulliganing. A strong hand of five or six is a lot better than a weak hand of seven.
This deck plays favorably against Zoo, Suicide Black, Sligh, and TnT - although your Negators are not as good, and you'll soon find that Jackal Pups cry like little girls when facing down a Dreadnought.
Control decks are often too slow to deal with the Mask - the best chance is for Control decks is to draw removal to get rid of the Dreadnoughts. Mono Blue, Oath, Chapin Gro, and even Keeper are favorable matchups for this deck.
The bane of this deck is creature removal. Balance is the scariest card this deck has to deal with.
Mono Blue decks become pretty weak if you can resolve an early Mask. They may be able to come back with Powder Kegs and perhaps Control Magic (if it's in their sideboard), but typically they will have minimum experience against your deck.
Parfait is an all-white deck that abuses Argivian Find and the Scroll Rack/Land Tax combo. There are a number of cards in there that you can just lose to, like Humility. You have Seal of Cleansing to deal with these problems, but this can still be rough. Notably, Paul is 3-0 against Parfait in tournament play, but it's still scary.
Where does that leave combo decks? In our experience the discard is very strong against Combo and allows the Mask deck to combo out before the Combo deck gets going. Also, because control decks are so dominant, combo tends to be rather weak. However, this could change at any time.
The Mask deck as presented is flexible enough to be able to deal with any potential threat through its discard, and so incredibly fast that most decks won't be able to get answers fast enough.
At Origins 2002, Paul piloted this deck to 1st, 2nd, and 8th place at the three major type one tournaments of over 35 people each. This deck is a winner, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we do. If you have any questions or comments about this article feel free to email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Steve Menendian, for helping me test this thing for months; a lot of this strategy and deck construction is his.
- Matt Kranstruber, for his suggestions.
- Brian Keil, for helping me pimp my deck out with foils.
- Dave Staymates, Marc Soyzinski, Adam, and Rob, for driving me to tournaments.
- My Crew, who came with me to Origins for their support.
- Anyone who holds a decent Type One tournament, as there are so few.
Jim Radeshak, for not giving me Heather Sawinko's email address.
I would like to thank my roommate Chris Stevenson for putting up with all of my Type One discussion and hours of being forced to play various type one decks against a monotonous mono blue deck. Additionally, his editing of this article was invaluable.