2, Feb, 24

MTG Deadly Disguise is Properly Piloted by a Legendary Bear

Article at a Glance

Out of all the new Murders at Karlov Manor pre-cons, Deadly Disguise was the one that most appealed to me. That is to say, more than the other decks, I had expectations. Any deck trying to mash up multiple different mechanics from across years of Magic could be a disaster. So, how does “flippy deck” perform and is it an actual game play success or a mechanics failure?

First, we’ll talk about commander options. Next, we’ll take a look at how the deck plays and any major issues therein. Finally are there any suggestions for cards that the deck absolutely wants to include when modifying forward? Let’s find out!

Dryad Versus Bear, the Eternal Struggle

Duskana, the Rage Mother

At first glance, it seems that there is only one option for Deadly Disguise‘s Commander: Kaust, Eyes of the Glade. However, there is a compelling case to consider Duskana, the Rage Mother over Kaust. In a typical game, you can quite easily turn two Kaust and turn three a 2/2 face down creature. That means, at best, you are looking at drawing one card on turn four if you can deal combat damage to a player. But considering mana constraints, you also play another face down creature turn four. Unless you were extremely lucky, with say a Sol Ring, this is as good as it gets. That means, on turn five, if you can get in for combat damage, you’ve drawn a second card. Meanwhile, it’s reasonable enough to have two face down creatures that you simply have in play and cast Duskana turn five to draw two cards and swing in for ten damage. Next turn? You’re still swinging for big damage, you do not need to flip at all.

Furthermore, after a big board wipe protected by Whisperwood Elemental, if you play Duskana, you’re immediately drawing a pile of cards. With Kaust, it’s quite a bit more involved. The potential for value every turn is there with Kaust, but it relies entirely on a few key cards like Veiled Ascension or Scroll of Fate to provide a stream of flippable cards.

That being said, Kaust allows for some pretty bonkers speed. Flipping up a Root Elemental puts any creature from your hand into play on turn four. Certainly the potential for some explosive plays belongs to Kaust.

With the deck at stock configuration, you’ll find that Duskana edges out Kaust because it’s more consistent. With some additions to the deck, though, there is huge potential for Kaust to do some massive work and even without any changes it’s still an okay commander.

So Many One-Sided Board Wipes

Summon a face down creature with Showstopping Surprise ready. That’s an easy one-sided wipe. The deck is absolutely loaded with this kind of tech. Fell the Mighty, Austere Command and Dusk all offer wipes that commonly dodge your own flipped creatures.

Both Whisperwood Elemental and Yedora, Grave Gardener give you wipe protection and at the same time let you re-deploy your team! Keep in mind that Yedora still lets you flip your creatures back if they have a special ability to do so. Even though Yedora says that the flipped over creature becomes a Forest and “it has no other types or abilities” that’s only technically true. Using Morph, for example, isn’t strictly an ability. It’s a special game action that doesn’t use the stack. See this post from Jess Dunks the current Rules Manager at Wizards regarding this.

Beyond wipes, there is also plenty of single target creature, artifact, and enchantment removal as well.

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Not Quite Ambiguous Enough

Talk about cool, Boltbender takes control of the stack in a big way. One small problem? It’s one of the handful of creatures with the Disguise ability. Since there are so few of these cards in the deck, the ability to create hesitation in your opponents is not that high. Furthermore, the Disguise costs are different enough that you may be unintentionally telegraphing what you have face down, especially if you set up your mana in an obvious way. Now, that can be a method used to bluff other players, but simple math says there’s still always a decent chance that you could have Boltbender.

Alright, so there are very few Disguise creatures. There are a lot of Morphed creatures, so there’s way more ambiguity there, right? Sort of, kind of, not really. This is where we get back into the Kaust versus Duskana argument.

Kaust really wants you to flip cards right away. Duskana is perfectly happy keeping them face down forever. Consider this. If you have a face down Disguise card played from your hand, there’s a 50% chance a removal spell simply won’t work. Fully half of the time, you can either Boltbender or turn into a non-creature permanent, True Identity or Branch of the Vitu-Ghazi to dodge removal. There’s a pretty big advantage to keeping your Disguised creatures face down until the absolute last second. That benefits the Duskana game plan more. Meanwhile, practically all the Morph creatures want to be turned face up immediately for instant value and also to get a lot bigger. That’s more the Kaust plan. Manifest could go either way depending on the card. As you can see, there’s a bit of variability which means the deck has inconsistent potential.

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How to fix it?

Here’s Scourge of the Throne. It’s far from a bad creature. Furthermore, the deck includes Imperial Hellkite as a big Morph that can search up the Scourge. While extra attack steps are always good and also work with Duskana it’s a bit odd here. If I wanted to include one big, game ending Dragon as a payoff for flipping the Hellkite, it would ideally have Haste or an enters the battlefield ability. Scourge has neither.

Neheb, the Eternal is similarly a solid card but does not make a whole lot of sense here. Another boggle is Tesak, Judith’s Hellhound which can give the two other Dogs and one Changeling in the deck the Unleash keyword. Just…why? None of them are face-down creatures or offer direct synergy. Especially with Ugin’s Mastery and Kaust, you need to be regularly adding a card to the table.

The deck also has Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa and Ohran Frostfang. These are relatively high mana cost cards, especially when you consider most of what you’re trying to do caps out at three colorless mana. While the idea is clear, make your 2/2 colorless creatures unblockable and draw cards, it takes a lot of mana and setup to gain value. Also Sidar and Duskana do not play nice together. Much like the cards above these cards don’t flip natively.

There are other cards like Seedborn Muse which offer tremendous single card power but might make you doubt the synergy. When you have the Muse with Mastery of the Unseen or Scroll of Fate the deck operates on a whole different level. In that vein, therefore, certain upgrades make a ton of sense. Enlightened Tutor is excellent for grabbing Mastery or Scroll ensuring that you have a steady stream of flippable options. It’s extremely hard not to recommend tutoring for a card that makes the deck work so much better.

Instead of a singleton big Dragon, consider a Planeswalker Dragon in Ugin, the Ineffable. It makes your future colorless spells cost two less and gives you another way to Manifest the top card of your library for that flow of new cards to flip. It’s also removal.

More Morph creatures! It will come down to preference and theme. Some creatures like Aven Liberator is a gotcha when it turns face up and saves something. Others like Primal Whisperer can be a massive body for very little mana. The more face down permanents, the more ambiguity you create for your opponents to navigate. Both Fortune Thief and Weathered Bodyguards can save you against massive combat damage and the other players won’t know to play around these cards until after their attack fizzles.

But More Than Anything, Haste

This deck needs Haste in a major way. Rhythm of the Wild and Fires of Yavimaya are strong includes. It’s also interesting to note that if you Unleash your creature, Duskana still gives it +3/+3 on attacking because it triggers off base power and toughness. Swiftfoot Boots beats out Lightning Greaves because you cannot target your own creature with Kaust if it’s wearing the Greaves. As the deck stands, the Greaves only offers Haste from some pseudo-synergy with Tesak and that’s not reliable at all.

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Was it fun?

Ultimately, Deadly Disguise is not going to win any major cEDH tournaments. The important question is if the deck is fun to play and how does it generate that fun? The answer is it’s certainly got the components in place to generate some moments. When you get attacked by a huge creature only to block and flip your Broodhatch Nantuko, the look on your opponent’s face will tell you all you need to know.

If they made you generate a pile of Insect tokens which you used to win, that’s a memorable game. But even beyond that game, the next time you play and that same opponent attacks you, you know one of you is going to mention that the face down creature could be the Nantuko ready for a repeat.

Out of the box, I had high expectations. After a few games, particularly one with an early Veiled Ascension, I saw the potential. It wasn’t the exact game experience that I originally expected, but it definitely delivered enough in terms strategy and replay value. Keep in mind that the deck is operating at peak efficiency when your board consists of mostly 2/2 colorless creatures with no abilities; I cannot imagine most players find that game state interesting. That being said, I can easily recommend this deck if you are interested in playing a face down deck, just be ready to check your cards constantly and always mumble “Boltbender” so that the table respects your face down army.

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