October 30, 2019

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The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

I hope you enjoy this more than you did Indiana Jones 4. Who goes after an alien artifact for the purpose of mind control? Why did Shia LaBeouf swing with the monkeys? How did he survive a nuke in a fridge?… Let’s just talk about Mind Control instead…

Often times your deck will be built specifically for your regular play group. As a result, there can be inclusions that don’t really do much at other tables or you can be too under or overpowered. So how about we consider the options to build a deck that just has some amount of play at every table? The power of it scales to every table so it can be as powerful or weak as your opponents decks. I introduce you to the idea of “everything you can do, I can do better.” Let’s steal everything from our opponents and win with their win cons.

We choose not to pack our own combos but instead to steal the creatures and spells our opponents have brought to the table. One of the only more unfortunate restrictions in building this style of deck is the colour restriction. You’re pretty much required to play blue as your base colour and offer other colours as support. Pretty much every card I’m going to bring up today, has blue in it but let’s start with some commander options.

Golos, Tireless Pilgrim, Rubinia Soulsinger, Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, Pramikon, Sky Rampart, The Mimeoplasm, Yasova Dragonclaw

Some of these are definitely greater than others but having some power in your commander to last you until the mid to late game will help a lot. As well, they should try and offer some form of card advantage or an additional way to steal creatures from your opponents. This part of your deck construction will always be relatively straightforward. Sultai, Bant or five colour is generally going to be ideal but any deck with blue in it can technically fit the bill. Choose your favourite U/x commander at let’s get to work on some of the staples!

Mind’s Dilation

This is an auto include in most blue decks I play. Punishing decks that rely heavily on instant speed interaction will keep you ahead especially on mana. If this survives a full rotation, you’ve probably gotten far more than seven mana worth of spells out of your opponents and will have them thinking twice about what they’re casting.

Control Magic

I’m going to do this as the general slot for the majority of the enchantment based stealing effects. This includes the best of the best like Treachery as well as the worse options (see In Bolas’s Clutches). Most of these effects cost too much mana but overall there’s a lot of power to be had in easily stealing an opponent’s commander with one of these. Hard to argue with really taking an opponent down a peg for four to six mana. Try to use more mana efficient ones if your budget allows it.

Mass Manipulation

While heavily colour intensive for a singleton format, the power level of this card in this type of deck is very high. Being able to steal the vast majority of the board in the late game will swing a game drastically in your favour and can be seen as a pretty definitive wincon in many games. As well, this is one of the few items on this list that will easily target planeswalkers. We have to steal all of their wincons. All. Of. Them.

Insurrection

A similar slot as Mass Manipulation but also just as powerful. With the haste side of things, this is done as a game winning spell generally speaking. On the other hand, there are so many board states that this card will be dead in your hand for an extended period of time. This is a heavily played card that I often feel will be too situational to be held with particularly high regard. While the ceiling is quite high, the floor is also incredibly low.

Mnemonic Betrayal

It’s like Yawgmoth’s Will? Well how about we have that effect on our opponent’s graveyards. Graveyards will always be filled in commander. Taking advantage of all the dead creatures and used spells will draw you ahead. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to accelerate your mana using this card unless there’s some destroyed Mana Crypts or Sol Rings. You’ll be hoping that at least a couple of your opponents used some form of Dark Ritual effect. On the other hand, you’ll likely be able to use this in the mid game for some form of minor advantage and a huge late game bomb.

Villainous Wealth

This card is a lot of fun but falls to similar pitfalls of Mnemonic Betrayal. Early game it’s a dead card and it relies heavily on you being able to ramp your way to victory. But when it goes off, it’ll generally swing the game in your favour. Hitting an opponent for ten or more with this card has been an absolute blast. While there will always be times where you just hit all lands, the odds of that are generally low. There’s also just a high amount of fun included in this card. A lot of the cards I’ve mentioned thus far will have rather large board impact or involve a solid amount of politics. They aren’t always the most fun though. But this card is just an absolute blast. The satisfaction of resolving this spell is rarely matched. If you haven’t cast this spell before, I strongly recommend that you include it in your next Sultai deck regardless.

Agent of Treachery

A permanent steal effect that also draws us cards if it survives? Sounds like an engine. Agent of Treachery is a newly printed backbone into this type of deck. At seven mana, it’s intensive. But in a format full of creature reanimation, flickering, and copying makes it an absolute powerhouse. As well, it doesn’t care what the card type is that we steal. As well, in this type of deck, you’ll be pretty consistently hitting the requirement for the second ability. Being able to draw three cards on each of your end steps will help you pull ahead in the game.

Phantasmal Image

How about we make some copies of Agent of Treachery or your opponent’s best creature? While the ability to kill this is very high, the low converted mana cost of it keeps it highly competitive. Bonus points on this card if you can hit a creature with an enter the battlefield effect such as Rune-Scarred Demon or if you can hit an opponent’s commander. Often times even copying something as simple as an Eternal Witness, Mulldrifter or Craterhoof Behemoth can progress your board heavily. Similar options to this card would be Dack’s Duplicate, Progenitor Mimic or Phyrexian Metamorph

Stolen Strategy

Card advantage or at worst exiling some of your opponents wincons. While the card loses some power if someone plays a Sylvan Library or Sensei’s Divining Top, the raw number of cards you will be seeing off of it should keep you fair ahead on board state. If you have high amounts of colourless ramp, you’ll be able to cast three plus spells a turn easily if you get good hits. At the card’s worst you’ll be exiling possible spells your opponent may want and messing with deck manipulation. While the floor may be somewhat low, the odds are good enough for this card to be consistently strong.

Command the Dreadhorde

A similar effect that you can also include in this slot would be Reanimate, Sepulchral Primordial, Animate Dead or anything similar to them. Command the Dreadhorde has power in its ability to hit more than the one to four that the aforementioned cards offer. As well, the ability to steal planeswalkers allows for greater flexibility (and more targets for you to steal).

Thief of Sanity

Stealing a card a turn keeps the control players away. While the stats on this card are less than ideal, the card selection that will be offered to you is on a similar level to Gonti, Lord of Luxury. While this may not have some play at certain tables that are either heavier on creatures in general or decks that contain a higher density of flying creatures (see Kaalia of the Vast). As well, you may not always want to put certain cards you see with the ability into the graveyard. Don’t exactly want your opponent to go nuts with Reanimate but at the same time, it can turn on your reanimation effects.

Bribery

Being able to just go through an opponent’s library and grabbing any creature pertinent to the current situation makes it so this will always be either a clean answer or a game winning spell. At only five mana, the power level of this card is high. The only time this won’t see any play is if you maybe sit down at a table full of three combo players that refuse to run even a single Snapcaster Mage. If that is the case, I strongly recommend you tell them they’re wrong and steal all their combo pieces anyway.

Mindslaver

Here’s the combo deck answer. Ever used a storm player’s deck to storm off and kill the whole table including them? Very few feelings greater than this. Normally you only get to see this in modern with Mono Blue Tron. A similar card that can get this job done is Emrakul, The Promised End. As per the modern deck, I do strongly recommend pairing Mindslaver with Academy Ruins. Repeatable effects like this certainly isn’t for every player and will earn some groans at certain table. But we all want to win the games we play with the most style points possible right?

I hope your takeaway from this is not only that this allows for a flexible power level based on the group that you play with, but also that this can serve as a low budget archetype. Many of the cards mentioned prior aren’t much more than a couple dollars a pop. You can then easily fill the rest of the decks out with your preferred ramp, removal and card draw staples. As well, you will generally be on the lower side of the threat assessment generally. You can also always go in a more silly fashion with chaos options like Scrambleverse or Shared Fate but that’s an article for another day. Enjoy and good luck in your games! May you hit ten plus nonland cards on your Villainous Wealth!