Mairsil, the Pretender: The Man of Many Faces (Grixis Commander Deck Tech) – A Commanding Challenge, by Paul Palmer


Mairsil, the Pretender: The Man of Many Faces Grixis Commander Deck Tech

32 Colour Combinations – The Premise

What exactly is this “challenge”? In short, the idea is to build a Commander deck for every colour combination. That means a deck for each mono colour (including colourless), each Ravnica Guild, each Shard/Tarkir clan, each Nephilim combination, and of course WUBRG or five colour.

This appealed to me on two levels. Firstly, I love brewing for Commander. Building decks is just so fun to me, whether it’s “Good Stuff” decks or decks with a theme or even just a sub-theme, something about it is so relaxing.

Secondly, I love the challenge that it provides, from choosing an interesting general for each deck, to trying to make them play differently and enjoyably. There are so many things to think about when building for Commander.

I decided that instead of just building these lists and leaving them to gather dust in my Tappedout folder, I’d write an article for each one. I highly recommend you try this out too. I’m only about half way through the decks and I’ve enjoyed it immensely.

I am not planning to do these articles in any particular order so I hope that they don’t get too confusing!

Overview of the deck

One of my favourite things to do with a new set (be it a regular set or a supplementary product) is to pick one of the weird, wacky legends and brew around it. Commander 2017 is no different and you can’t really get weirder or wackier than Mairsil, the Pretender.

Mairsil is a pretty unique commander in that you want to get as many of your creatures into exile as possible. While this is the case you don’t want them to get exiled any old way, you need them exiled through your commander’s ability. Whenever Mairsil enters the battlefield you can either exile a creature or an artifact from your hand or graveyard putting a new unique type of counter (cage counter) on it. Mairsil then has the activated abilities of all cards you own in exile with a cage counter on them. The way to stop this card from just being a combo machine is that you can only use each ability of each exiled card once meaning that redundancy is a big deal in this deck. This ability allows you to have one creature in play that slowly becomes the most versatile permanent in play.

There are three types of cards I tried to focus on when building this deck:

  1. Cards with multiple abilities.
  2. Card that allow you to either flicker or return Mairsil to your hand to get the most out of his ETB trigger.
  3. Cards with powerful activated abilities that are balanced by having negative effects from triggered abilities (See: [c]Minion of Leshrac[/c] and [c]Infernal Denizen[/c])

I purposely avoided filling this deck with a ton of combo enablers and instead focused on getting as much value as I could out of Mairsil’s newfound abilities.

Looking for a Commander deck? Check out the Commander 2017 pre-built decks and singles here!

The deck’s main gameplay goal

As mentioned in the previous section, the main goal of this deck is to exile a ton of creatures and artifacts with powerful activated abilities to make Mairsil an effective one-man tapping and untapping army with card draw, removal, and the ability to protect himself at his fingertips.

Staff of Domination Aether Revolt Masterpiece Series
Staff of Domination Aether Revolt Masterpiece Series

Mairsil is clearly easy to abuse, and even the colours that he represents lend themselves to building a hugely powerful and redundant combo engine that goldfishes into a winning turn. I purposely left out the majority of infinite combos that I could think of and the only one that managed to make it through the cracks is one that I didn’t eve realise was a combo until I had finished deck-building (I’ll talk more about that in the Win Condition section of this article).

So without a bunch of infinite combos what was I left with? In short, I was left with all of the pieces to make an engine of untold VALUE. Something that LSV himself could be proud of.

Probably the best way this deck generates value is by having a lot of untap effects through cards like [c]Morphling[/c], [c]Torchling[/c] and [c]Staff of Domination[/c]. These allow you to untap Mairsil on the cheap and use a variation of the tap abilities in the deck from cards like [c]Arcanis the Omnipotent[/c], [c]Avatar of Woe[/c] and [c]Helldozer[/c] (for those pesky [c]Maze of Iths[/c]).

But if all we’re doing is tapping and untapping this one guy… How does the deck actually win?!?

Win conditions

That’s simple, we win by tapping and untapping this one guy. Now before you press on that X in the top right hand corner of your browser, hear me out!

Combo Win

As I mentioned very briefly in the previous section, one combo did slip through the cracks of deck building. [c]Anthroplasm[/c] + [c]Sage of Hours[/c]. In short you pay 5 and tap [c]Anthroplasm[/c] to put 5 counters onto it and then remove those counters with [c]Sage of Hours[/c] to take an extra turn, rinse and repeat. While this is something I wanted to avoid, both of these cards are actually good in their own rights and I didn’t want to cut either good value card because of a single infinite combo (which has a lot of room for interaction) so I decided to keep them.

Hitting your opponents in the face

A lot of activated abilities in red deal damage to your opponent’s face or hit their creatures, so I took the best of these and stuck them in the deck as trying to win a game through combat steps when you’re most likely only going to have one creature at any one time is unrealistic at best, at worst you don’t find any of your answers to utility lands and get Maze’d into the next century.

Arguably the best of these in this deck is [c]Hateflayer[/c] as it serves double duty of both hitting your opponent’s face or creatures while also being able to untap Mairsil and letting you use another ability. The other creature that fits this profile is [c]Spikeshot Elder[/c]. Normally used in conjunction with [c]Krenko, Mob Boss[/c] and [c]Coat of Arms[/c], it’s not hard to make this creature big enough to simply kill all of your opponents. In this deck it’ll probably see more use killing mid to low toughness utility creatures, but it can certainly double up as a long-term grindy win condition.

While it doesn’t really fit in this section since it doesn’t actually hit your opponents, [c]Tree of Perdition[/c] is another card that you can use to bring an opponent to their knees (or more accurately 4 life) but the main use is as a political tool, not activating it until someone is about to die and basically holding their life in your hands.

These win conditions are all very slow but can be sped up with the use of a mechanic that I’m sure nobody really like. [c]Pestilent Souleater[/c] allows you to give Mairsil Infect at will for the low cost of 2 life. I did also have [c]Vector Asp[/c], but figured that having too many ways to give infect would be unfun.

Your stuff is my stuff

Another sweet mechanic that you get in these colours is taking the colour of/reanimating your opponent’s creatures. As you can probably imagine, this deck forgoes a lot of the powerful creatures you’d expect in this kind of list for those that have more synergy with the commander. With this being the case, I added a few ways to use your opponents’ beefy dudes against them.

[c]Infernal Denizen[/c] and [c]Chainer, Dementia Master[/c] both fit into the category I mentioned earlier of creatures with very powerful activated abilities that also have triggered or static abilites to counteract the power. Luckily Mairsil simply gets the powerful activated abilities while leaving the negative effects in exile where they belong; that’s right, there is no sacrificing your swamps to [c]Infernal Denizen[/c] or exiling the stuff you’ve robbed with [c]Chainer, Dementia Master[/c] in this deck.

I’ve also added the new flavour of the month, [c]The Scarab God[/c]. While you don’t get the drain or the scry, being able to abuse your opponents’ powerful ETB effects is very helpful and can make up for your lack of these abilities due to their non-synergy with Mairsil.


Being a deck that wants its cards in exile rather than in play, I’ve avoided stacking it with ramp, however there are the usual suspects; [c]Sol Ring[/c], Signets and then also [c]Basalt Monolith[/c].

The monolith fits two roles in this deck. First and foremost it is a powerful ramp card –  while it does not work every turn, it can help towards some very explosive, mana intensive turns. In addition, having the ability to untap itself means that you can exile it to Mairsil as another way to untap for even more value out of your tap abilities.


Blue, Black and Red are arguably the best colours for removal in Commander from [c]Hero’s Downfall[/c] to [c]Cyclonic Rift[/c], and even burn spells have a place in the format. That being said this deck only runs one actual removal spell, the rest are more like… Removal abilities?

The deck obviously runs [c]Cyclonic Rift[/c], after all, I’m only human. I won’t go into depth about why this card is insane. That’s an article in itself. The removal in this deck comes in a variety of forms, destroying creatures, returning creatures to their owners’ hands and even land destruction.

[c]Avatar of Woe[/c] and [c]Minion of Leshrac[/c] are the two core removal creatures with the basic ‘destroy target creature’ text. [c]Shauku, Endbringer[/c] and [c]Alexi, Zephyr Mage[/c] cover indestructible creatures by either exiling or bouncing them, while [c]Viashino Heretic[/c] covers pesky artifacts like [c]Paradox Engine[/c] and [c]Rings of Brighthearth[/c], stopping those decks from being able to completely go off.

There are also a couple of cards that function as removal in a different way. [c]Kozilek, the Great Distortion[/c] lets you discard cards at will to counter spells while [c]Hex Parasite[/c] helps to deal with Planeswalkers and any other cards that rely on counters (no more random losses to [c]Darksteel Reactor[/c] or [c]Azor’s Elecutors[/c])!

Finally are the board wipes. [c]Nevinyrral’s Disk[/c] and [c]Perilous Vault[/c] allow access to reusable board wipes from your command zone. I honestly believe that these will be some of the highest priority targets for Mairsil to exile and for your opponents to prevent Mairsil from exiling, especially as [c]Perilous Vault[/c] is like [c]Child of Alara[/c].

Getting More Cards

The beauty of this deck is that you don’t really need a lot of cards in hand, as everything is in your commander. Due to this, the best card advantage you can get is putting cards into your graveyard. For this we’re using [c]Buried Alive[/c] for the best creatures, [c]Entomb[/c] for a card of your choice, and [c]Demonic Collusion[/c], as this lets you search for a utility artifact like [c]Conjurer’s Closet[/c] or [c]Illusionist’s Bracers[/c] while allowing you to put two creatures into your graveyard with its flashback cost.

There is a little traditional card advantage. The deck runs [c]Arcanis the Omnipotent[/c] and [c]Mercurial Chemister[/c]. In conjunction with the untap effects in the deck, these allow you to draw a number of cards in both yours and your opponent’s turns.

Fun Cards and Interactions

I honestly feel like I should put every card in the deck here, as I think that this is one of the most fun commander decks I’ve brewed in a long time and I can’t wait for the new set as there are so many other cards I want to play around with. ([c]Ramos, Dragon Engine[/c] is both an artifact, a dragon and five colours. I’m so sold on this.) There are a few, though, that particularly stick out.

For the extra value, the deck runs [c]Rings of Brighthearth[/c] and [c]Illusionist’s Bracers[/c], as these help to get around the limit of only using abilities once a turn in a small but meaningful way. They aren’t enough to let you go infinite with Mairsil by himself but they certainly up the power level significantly.

[c]Shifty Doppelganger[/c] is incredibly powerful, allowing you to put a powerful creature into play and then return Mairsil, sacrificing and exiling it to Mairsil all at once. This is probably one of the best ways to get Mairsil in and out of play multiple times, however for reduncancy’s sake, the deck also has [c]Conjurer’s Closet[/c] to achieve the same thing.

As there are a lot of ways to flicker/bounce Mairsil he needs some way to gain haste. To achieve this the deck has both [c]Thousand-year Elixir[/c] for his abilities and [c]Fervor[/c] for actual haste. These allow you to flicker and play Mairsil at will meaning you can abuse his activated abilities all the better. This abuse of activated abilities is enhanced by [c]Training Grounds[/c] reducing any abilities with costs by 2 generic mana, a large amount of mana when it comes to cards like [c]Anthroplasm[/c] and [c]Staff of Domination[/c].


This deck was a ton of fun to build. I started with over 400 cards that I managed to filter down into the 100 needed for a commander deck, I only hope it’s as much fun to play as it was to build.

The other ways this deck could be built would be to abuse charge counters with cards like [c]Ventifact Bottle[/c] and [c]Gemstone Array[/c], or even to use mana rocks like [c]Gilded Lotus[/c], [c]Mana Vault[/c] and [c]Grim Monolith[/c] in conjunction with untap effects to ramp into big dumb fatties like [c]Blightsteel Colossus[/c]. This deck has so many cards you can use and ways to build it that I don’t think we’ll see any identical [c]Mairsil, the Pretender[/c] decks.

The full final decklist

Commander: Mairsil, the Pretender

[d]1 AEtherling
1 Alexi, Zephyr Mage
1 Anger
1 Anthroplasm
1 Arcanis the Omnipotent
1 Argent Sphinx
1 Avatar of Woe
1 Basalt Monolith
1 Blood Crypt
1 Bloodstained Mire
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Buried Alive
1 Cabal Coffers
1 Canyon Slough
1 Chainer, Dementia Master
1 Command Tower
1 Conjurer’s Closet
1 Cyclonic Rift
1 Deadeye Navigator
1 Demonic Collusion
1 Desolate Lighthouse
1 Dimir Signet
1 Dominating Licid
1 Eater of the Dead
1 Entomb
1 Ertai, Wizard Adept
1 Essence Flux
1 Fact or Fiction
1 Fervor
1 Fetid Pools
1 Forbid
1 Geier Reach Sanitarium
1 Ghostly Flicker
1 Great Furnace
1 Hateflayer
1 Helldozer
1 Hex Parasite
1 Horseshoe Crab
1 Illusionist’s Bracers
1 Infernal Denizen
5 Island
1 Izzet Signet
1 Jodah’s Avenger
1 Knacksaw Clique
1 Kozilek, the Great Distortion
1 Mairsil, the Pretender
1 Maze of Ith
1 Mercurial Chemister
1 Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
1 Minion of Leshrac
1 Morphling
1 Mountain
1 Nevinyrral’s Disk
1 Olivia Voldaren
1 Oona, Queen of the Fae
1 Opal Palace
1 Pack Rat
1 Panharmonicon
1 Perilous Vault
1 Pestilent Souleater
1 Phyrexian Devourer
1 Polluted Delta
1 Rainbow Efreet
1 Rakdos Signet
1 Razaketh, the Foulblooded
1 Reflecting Pool
1 Rings of Brighthearth
1 Riptide Laboratory
1 Rites of Refusal
1 Sage of Hours
1 Scalding Tarn
1 Seat of the Synod
1 Shauku, Endbringer
1 Shifty Doppelganger
1 Shizo, Death’s Storehouse
1 Skyship Stalker
1 Smoldering Marsh
1 Sol Ring
1 Sphinx of Magosi
1 Spikeshot Elder
1 Staff of Domination
1 Steam Vents
1 Strip Mine
1 Sunken Hollow
2 Swamp
1 The Scarab God
1 Thousand-Year Elixir
1 Torchling
1 Training Grounds
1 Tree of Perdition
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Vault of Whispers
1 Viashino Heretic
1 Visara the Dreadful
1 Watery Grave[/d]

Looking for a Commander deck? Check out the Commander 2017 pre-built decks and singles here!

What cards are you most excited for from Commander 2017? Which tribe are you rooting for? Which general do you think will be the most powerful/most fun to play?

Thanks for reading,

Paul Palmer

Mairsil, the Pretender: The Man of Many Faces (Grixis Commander Deck Tech) - A Commanding Challenge, by Paul Palmer
What exactly is this “challenge”? In short, the idea is to build a Commander deck for every colour combination.

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