Last weekend saw the release of four new pre-constructed Commander decks: Mystic Intellect, Primal Genesis, Merciless Rage, and Faceless Menace. I hadn’t followed the preview season that much, but this only added to the novelty when I played some games with friends using only the pre-constructed decks. In this article, I’m going to take a look at the Faceless Menace deck and make some suggestions for modifying the deck, it being the deck I had the most fun trying out!
Faceless Menace in review
One of the things I really like to do in Commander is to instill some intrigue, be it through making unexpected plays to my advantage, fielding weird or underplayed cards to keep my opponents guessing, or by simply having a plan that is less obvious to detect. It’s of absolutely no surprise, therefore, that Faceless Menace was the deck I played and enjoyed the most of the four new precons. Here are some brief reflections on the deck itself – perhaps slightly biased towards my preferences.
I always chose to use Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer as the Commander because of its card draw and cost reduction abilities. She effectively turbo-charges the deck’s sneakier elements, which lends itself to my preferred way of playing games. Rayami, First of the Fallen seemed a bit too much of a Voltron-esque strategy which I am less fond of. I also thought having to exile my own stuff would cut down on opportunities for recursion later in the game. Volrath, the Shapestealer seemed decent, but I thought it looked much more obvious than obscure.
In summary, I think the selection of Morph creatures that come with the deck is very good. There are a decent number of them, and they have a good range of different tricks to keep your opponent guessing and on their toes. The addition of cards like Ixidron and Thieving Amalgam add more layers to the possible faceless strategies. Using face-down creatures is inherently sneaky, but my favourite creatures in this deck are the ones that push that style of play even further, namely: Kadena’s Silencer, Chromeshell Crab, Kheru Spellsnatcher, Vesuvan Shapeshifter, and Willbender.
Instants and sorceries
Most of the instants and sorceries are generic effects that support the deck’s ability to set up mana or efficiently remove troublesome permanents. The standouts for me are Sudden Substitution and Leadership Vacuum, as they offer new ways to interact with opponents. Substitution can be used in so many ways, from donating a 1/1 snake token in exchange for an opponent’s Expropriate or letting your opponent gain control of your Farseek while you take their best creature. Vacuum can be particularly effective against decks that have been built around their Commander and will still work if their controller routinely protects them with Lightning Greaves or Swiftfoot Boots.
Artifacts and enchantments
A small selection of support cards to, again, help set up mana and enhance the utilisation of face-down creatures. If we have Scroll of Fate and Secret Plans out, we’ve essentially assembled a substitute Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer that can put a creature in at instant speed. However, the most interesting cards for me are Gift of Doom and Pendant of Prosperity. Gift falls into a similar category to my favourite creature spells from the deck, in that it can be used to play tricks on your opponents either in response to a removal spell or before inevitable combat damage. Pendant is an offering of mutual value that an opponent may find hard to refuse, especially if you need to team up to deal with another player who is currently dominating the game.
Using face-down creatures has historically been an extremely mana-intensive endeavour with payoffs that don’t often provide a sufficient return on one’s investment, but this deck cuts down on mana intensity and provides more reward for using face-down creatures, making it a big ‘win’ from Wizards in my books. While the point about the theme being mana-intensive remains, the deck still has a lot of ways to support its mana development. This helps the deck play as intended, allowing you to play a morph in your turn while still holding mana up to un-morph creatures in your opponent’s turns.
Modifying the deck
There are many ways one can go with this process, but the direction taken will often come down to personal taste. In this section, I’ll be suggesting modifications to make the deck even sneakier – be it with more tricks or by just employing some of the existing tricks at a more efficient rate. If you’re after obvious power or ways to guarantee trying to increase your win percentage with this deck, then you might be in for a shock.
I’ll present this section using a ‘cards-in/cards-out’ layout. Hopefully this will help with comparisons and enhance the explanations I give. Having said this, this isn’t intended to be like sideboarding in other formats, so there’s no need to be strict about what cards are coming out for other cards – all of the ideas are mere suggestions. There’s no need to be fully prescriptive to them and you could adopt some but not all of the suggestions – just make sure your deck is the right number of cards by the end of it!
I will cover upgrading the manabase separately to non-land cards, as it’s a very budget-dependant subject.
The creature suite
I am taking out the creatures that shine predominantly as ‘beat-sticks.’ I find that decks of other colour combinations easily outshine Sultai where creature size and combat abilities are concerned. Therefore, I prefer not to try and fight this battle. Sagu Mauler is a good trick in the context of Khan’s of Tarkir Limited, but doesn’t quite do it for me in multiplayer Commander. Apex Altisaur is a cool new card, but it’s incredibly expensive. Opponents will often be trying to win the game for nine mana, so a 10/10 without trample that might successfully fight a few creatures isn’t enough.
I’ve taken a trip back to Onslaught block to uncover a few more creatures with the Morph ability! I feel that these compliment the existing suite of creatures well and enable me to play yet more tricks. Whisperwood Elemental will help me recover from boardwipes, which are great against this deck.
Cutting all the cards that get us more mana in a mana-intensive deck seems crazy at first, but I want to replace them with cards that will do a similar job but have better overall synergy with the deck. Mana rocks often end up being caught in the crossfire of incidental artifact destruction, and the sorceries only really work once per game, despite being mana-efficient. They are also terrible topdecks later on in the game. Sol Ring is undeniably powerful, but only in the first couple of turns of the game. Playing it only really enables me to play effects ahead of curve, putting me on the path of being outed as ‘the threat’ or ‘ahead.’ The enchantments link with the theme of the deck nicely, but they can also be picked off, sometimes due to incidental enchantment destruction or someone who controls Aura Shards just wanting to ‘get value’ when they play a creature. Additionally, by the time we’re done sculpting the deck, we will find other ways to generate value which will compensate for their loss.
These cards do a similar job to the above and are generally more flexible. Successfully transforming the Ixalan artifacts ramps us for free as well as providing us some helpful abilities along the way. I will concede that those and Sword of the Animist can potentially be picked off by artifact removal, but will more likely have already provided us with some card selection or card advantage.
These cards are the easiest ways to win games, with numerous paths to victory often leading to them. I often eschew cards like these because I don’t like my games being centred around drawing and resolving the same card to secure victory, I prefer my games to be a bit more challenging and varied.
Both Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and All is Dust can combine with this deck to create a Plague Wind type of effect, as there will be several board states where you are the only one with numerous face-down creatures and your opponents can only keep their artifact creatures and Eldrazi. This will frequently give us at least a turn of attacking where the opponent cannot block and we just removed a bunch of their stuff (hopefully)! Both can also be used defensively to neutralize any number of opponents who might be ahead of us (note that this plan won’t be great against artifact or Eldrazi decks). These cards will build you to a game win, but won’t always work as simplistically as the three finishers we removed. This means that it’s harder to win games this way more of the time, but these cards can save you from the jaws of defeat or help you push through a wide range of board states, both of which can lead to longer-term victories! Ixidor compliments the plan of getting those faceless 2/2s to win the game by boosting them and allowing you to reduce morph costs!
These cards unfortunately fall into the category of “not really doing enough” for me. Most are generic interaction effects, which I think are important to have in the deck, but I like to get more out of my interactive cards. Vraska the Unseen does have an assassin-themed (sneaky?) ultimate, but most opponents will see it coming. Road of Return’s second feature feels a little unnecessary to me. In a non-competitive environment, I find cheating on mana using your Commander to be a superfluous luxury that tends to not be relevant a lot of the time, but that’s perhaps my willingness to accept Commander tax talking.
I’ve replaced a number of the instants and sorceries with creatures that do similar things when they enter the battlefield (ETB). This will give us the effects we want and more options to attack and block or possibly reuse them if they somehow end up in our hand again. I added the cards with Transmute because they provide unique interactions with the stack and graveyard but can also search for a number of creatures with morph, providing the deck with somewhat of a ‘toolbox.’ Ugin, the Ineffable feels like a big power-boost over Vraska the Unseen. Making all our creatures with Morph cost two less mana while providing 2/2s which turn into cards and the ability to occasionally remove any coloured permanent will really turn the cogs in this deck.
I just don’t like Seedborn muse!
This card is incredibly powerful, but unless I can actually keep a stranglehold on all my opponents (in which case I’ve already won anyway?) or win the game in short order, it just makes me look more powerful than I actually am. In a similar way to Sol Ring, it’s very likely to attract more fire from opponents than the firepower it provides us.
Being able to play our creatures at instant speed will increase our options, particularly through the creatures with Morph. Combined with Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer, we can play a face down creature for free in each of our opponent’s turns – powerful, but at least a little more subtle than Seedborn Muse!
I decided to cover this separately, as the ways others might want to enhance this part of the deck would very much depend on their budget. First I’ll cover what I’d remove, and then I’ll present low-, medium-, and high-end options for their replacements. Feel free to make replacements depending on your budget!
The weakest lands
I’m not a fan of these in general. They allow us to reuse lands with ETB triggers, but there are only a limited number of those and most of their effects are marginal. The risk of having one destroyed and falling behind as a result vastly outweighs this. If drawn early in multiples, they can also significantly constrain spellcasting flexibility and board development.
I would look to start by replacing lands from these categories first, even before I started cutting basic lands.
Low budget replacements(lands that typically cost $3 or less)
These lands will either sometimes enter play untapped or have additional abilities over mere taplands
Medium budget (lands that typically cost $12 or less)
These lands improve the deck’s consistency in terms of generating the right colours at the right time. They can all enter play untapped, and Breeding Pool and Overgrown Tomb can be searched with Wood Elves if you are adding it! If you have already replaced the bouncelands and taplands with the low budget suggestions, you can move on to replacing two to three basic lands, Exotic Orchard, or Darkwater Catacombs.
High budget (no limit on $ cost)
These cards significantly improve the deck’s consistency in terms of generating the right colours at the right time and all enter play untapped. Bayou and Tropical Island can be searched for with Wood Elves if you are adding it. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth will turn all our blue- and green-producing lands into “dual lands,” but it may also help your opponents in the same way. If you’ve already replaced lands using the low and medium budget suggestions, I would recommend replacing Evolving Wilds, Terramorphic Expanse, and Ash Barrens with the fetch lands and Opulent Palace, Yavimaya Coast, and Llanowar Wastes with the dual lands. Urborg can replace a basic Swamp.
I would also recommend the following lands to increase the deck’s utility in consideration of using face-down creatures
These lands provide additional ways to play creatures at any time. They make the deck more mana intensive, but being able to use a particular trick not yet on the battlefield at the right moment can be worth the extra three mana!
This land could end up providing some much-needed lifegain considering how many colourless creatures are fielded in the deck.
Some of the more powerful decks your opponents could field make effective use of lands with abilities – some of these will help you combat them. I think having a couple of these (as opposed to all five) will help provide some options without hurting the consistency at which you are capable of generating the right colours.
Upgrading the manabase isn’t particularly straightforward, so I’ve tried to keep my recommendations simple. I’ll leave you with one last guideline, which is to try and keep at least ten basic lands in the deck if possible.
Here is the end result with the medium budget manabase. Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer is the Commander.
I hope you find the suggestions for modifying the deck useful and interesting. I’ve tried to maintain some fidelity to the face-down theme, despite the fact that some sacrifices have been made along the way. If I’m 100% honest, using creatures with Morph is incredibly fun and interesting, but it’s very far away from the most efficient or powerful things that can be done in multiplayer Commander. A ‘strict upgrade’ to this deck would probably be to eschew a lot of the faceless synergies and play as a Sultai value or combo deck using only some of the stronger cards from this pre-constructed deck. I had a lot more fun thinking about how I would modify the deck and keeping the face down creatures a part of the core strategy rather than thinking about optimising the deck just to make it ‘more powerful.’
I don’t think it’s necessary to cut the “Finishers” from the deck, and, as stated in that section, it takes away the three easiest ways for the deck to actually win. I just have a personal preference for enjoying the games when they are more challenging to win, so cards like Overwhelming Stampede don’t really appeal to me.
I’m playing Modern and Modern Horizons Limited next weekend at the European Modern Series Finals in Stansted. There’s been a bit of a shake-up to the format via the recent bannings. No more 8/8s for 0. Squires are all the rage now – I think I might still have one that can finally come out of a trade binder having not been played in a few years!
You can find me on Facebook and Twitter @Chris54154, feel free to hit me up with any of your thoughts! Which pre-con is your favourite? How would you upgrade the Faceless Menace?
As always, thanks for reading, good luck, and have fun in your next game!