More than half my life ago I discovered Magic: the Gathering, a game I would come to love and a vehicle to bond with some of my best friends. But my earliest passion was comic books. At a very young age comics books captured my imagination with deep lore, a massive archive of prior stories, and a mythical sense of hope and grandeur.

In the early 2000’s Smallville took my existing love of comics and made the subject more legitimate. The stories were a twist on the Superman mythos as I understood it. The writing felt crisp and the larger story—only dwarfed by Buffy the Vampire Slayer at the time—kept me coming back week after week. That all changed in 2006 with the watershed premiere of the NBC series Heroes, the jumping off point this week.

For the uninitiated or those who know the series for its reputation as it rapidly crumbled in later seasons, the beginnings of Heroes were a worldwide phenomenon that followed seemingly normal people as they discovered their extraordinary abilities—sounds like a nice plot for Magic TV series, actually. I put a lot of the praise on one of the show’s immediately iconic characters, Gabriel Gray aka Sylar—a villain oozing charisma, equipped with the power to acquire other people’s abilities through sinister means.

I was reminded of Sylar during a recent episode of The Command Zone podcast when the hosts compared the character to the recently released Mairsil, the Pretender. The comparison struck me immediately as a genius observation. The notion of these two characters’ similar themes compelled me to this week’s topic, bringing my own twist to a Mairsil deck.

Mairsil, the Pretender

When Mairsil, the Pretender was unveiled this Fall I was completely unaware of how they fit into the Magic lore or even that they had been an existing character dating back to The Dark and Ice Age era lore. Responsible for locking Ith, High Arcanist away in a cage, Mairsil took over where Ith left off and ruled as a pretender with a sweet maze. I believe he did the same thing to Jaya Ballard, Task Mage and Lim-Dûl the Necromancer; so from a Vorthos perspective, this card does pretty much what the character did in the stories, locking people away and amassing power.

Of the Wizard commanders coming out of Commander 2017, Kess has gotten a lot of attention. There was a lot of agreement that out of the box, she was the best new general in that deck. But I have suspected—and been pleasantly surprised when discussions on podcasts like Commander Cast and Command Zone agreed—that Mairsil is probably a powerful general we just don’t understand yet. The power in my eyes is that Mairsil is highly adaptable and can function off of any collection of creatures and artifacts in the Grixis color identity with activated abilities, setting the stage for a high saturation of combos that were never possible before the printing of our general. I don’t know that my own digging through Gatherer has assembled a peak deck, but I really want to take a shot at drawing up a skeleton. To stay focused I am going to return to the immortal words of Neale Talbot’s seven-by-nine theory in order to construct a handful of suites in search of the best version of my potential deck.

Unconventional Means

One of the most interesting components of Mairsil for me is the means for finding untapped potential in easily forgotten cards. One of the main themes within my build of the deck is a focus on charge counters, mainly coming from artifacts. Most cards that utilize charge counters generate their own when they enter the battlefield, like Tumble Magnet or Sphere of the Suns. My interest here is energizing Mairsil up only to tap into another powerful effect on one of these cards that normally starts with charge counters, but never accrues more, effects never meant to be possible in double digits.

Adding Charge Counters: Otherworld Atlas, Ratchet Bomb, Lux Cannon, Grindclock, Coalition Relic, Ventifact Bottle, and Titan Forge.

With this package we will be able to add at least one charge counter for “free” on each player’s turn provided we can untap our general. With some of the cards I will talk about in a future section, we should also be able to chain together activations by tapping Mairsil a half dozen times in a turn. The two outliers here are Ventifact Bottle and Titan Forge, which will cost us mana, but in the case of the Bottle, we can move at a very rapid pace.

Once we have a desirable amount of charge counters on Mairsil, we will also be able to leverage a few cards from this suite for their second ability: Otherworld Atlas/Grindclock to go on the mill plan, Lux Cannon to remove troublesome permanents, and Titan Forge to generate creatures for attacking or blocking. With enough control over your counters with something like Umezawa’s Jitte, you may even be able to threaten Ratchet Bomb board wipes.

Activation Overload

Next it seems appropriate to formulate a game plan for how will we can best chain together our tap abilities and make fast work of getting the first half dozen charge counters onto our general. I want to have a healthy mix of abilities that Mairsil himself will take on and a few outside sources, because I can’t imagine we’ll reliably get three or four caged cards right away.

Untap Tricks: Freed from the Real, Aura of Dominion, Pemmin’s Aura, Second Wind, Crackleburr, Hateflayer, and Pili-Pala

I have a special place in my heart for Freed from the Real and Pemmin’s Aura in this deck. With a sizable amount of counters and Astral Cornucopia we will be able to generate massive amounts of mana to feed into whichever one we currently have attached to our general. Crackleburr will work nicely as a removal spell whether caged or not, combos well with the aforementioned Cornucopia mana, and can be sustained as each turn goes around the table by comboing with The Locust God’s tokens.

Hateflayer on the other hand can act as removal, or a win condition if we ever amass a healthy Otherworld Atlas activation with Diviner’s Wand attached to the elemental or our general. With a few spare mana available before passing the turn, it seems completely possible that will be able to refresh our general during every player’s turn with the right three or four cards in exile.

Mairsil is The Truth

All this talk of “pie in the sky” theories with almost half a dozen cards caged, it’s possible that you’re reading this thinking I need to get realistic. I would hope that by now you realized I always have a plan of action.

Filling our hands and graveyard: Cathartic Reunion, Frantic Search, Breakthrough, Burning Inquiry, Necrologia, Ancient Excavation, and Civilized Scholar

Because our hand and graveyard are both optional targets for caging creatures and artifacts, any spell that allows us to draw cards in reasonable swaths and discard what we don’t need occupying our hand is going to work well for this strategy. It is to our benefit to launch off a few of these spells before casting our general to give us the best chance of hitting pieces of the combos or simple synergies I’ve been outlining. After that, I hope we’ve found at least one of the next package.

Flicker Effects: Ghostly Flicker, Siren’s Ruse, Essence Flux, Displace, Conjurer’s Closet, Aetherling, and Deadeye Navigator

Each of the spells in this package are designed to reset Mairsil in the early game and help him to avoid targeted removal later in the game. It will really suck to lose any charge counters we might have amassed over the course of the game, but caging another card for three or less mana will prove to be worth it in the end. It’s also no secret that Deadeye Navigator and Aetherling are staples for this deck, as always. Not every deck can buck all trends.

Unmatched Dominance

What are we going to do with all the charge counters I spoke about amassing earlier? How do I not just fold to a Go for the Throat? How do we win?

Above all else, you’ll want to track down your copies of Heartstone and Rings of Brighthearth, as both of them will be making our lives easier. With a healthy amount of charge counters we can start to generate large swaths of mana with Astral Cornucopia to make our general huge with Anthroplasm with the goal of one-shotting people with the untap ability off of Hateflayer each turn. With that same mana, we could also cast an obscenely large Exsanguinate.

We can protect Mairsil by caging Yahenni, Undying Partisan or Horror of the Dim. We can ensure that we don’t draw ourselves to death with cards like Obstinate Familiar or even Feldon’s Cane lurking in the deck. We can always hit the ground running with Blighted Bat or alternatively, protect our combos by flickering out our general on the end step before our turn to cage Magistrate’s Scepter and then taking an arbitrary amount of turns with the interaction between the Scepter and Ventifact Bottle. What I’m trying to say is, we can do some silly stuff with Mairsil, even if it’s extremely convoluted.

Going Horribly Awry

So what are the weak points of the deck as I have outlined it? Well, once you show off what the deck is capable of your playgroup will probably make destroying you the first topic of conversation when you shuffle up Mairsil in the future. Unless they have the memory of untrained goldfish. Furthermore, the deck could just find the wrong pieces of any given combos or the sequence to pull off huge turns may be too convoluted to do correctly. High risk and high reward though, as far as I see it.

Its funny how the initial push that drove me to this article was the thematic links between Mairsil and Sylar. While my outlined build is by no means a flavor-first build to align the characters, I wonder if Sylar’s fate is an omen to Mairsil’s. Sylar was a character of near limitless potential, neutered of all his possibility under the guidance of lazy writing. I worry that Mairsil may fall short of his potential to be the headliner for my next installment of “Oppressive Wills” and just fade into obscurity, written about by my spiritual successor on some other website in 2022. With the ability to acquire a myriad of abilities, Mairsil is one of my favorite kinds of commanders because the nearly endless possibilities empower those deck builders willing to put in the time to research and craft something unique. If you have a build, I would love to hear about.

Until next time, thanks.

Ryan Sainio is a Graphic Designer who writes about EDH, the story of Magic and the EDH community in his down time. He has been playing Magic: The Gathering since 7th Edition in 2002 and values flavorful and fun gameplay over competitively optimized decks.
Pet Deck – Shattergang Eldrazi

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.