Magic Memories: Phyrexian Dreadnought


The Tentacled One
I've said before that I'm convinced the very first Magic card I saw was Teremko Griffin. It's quite likely that I was shown multiple cards from Mirage on that occasion, but Martin McKenna's striking art with the eagle head in the extreme foreground, the distinctive spotted coat in the middle layer and the rocky mountaintop in the background made this a memorable common even to an 11-year old with no knowledge of the game. While the first cards I was shown as examples were from Mirage, my earliest actual gameplay experiences didn't meaningfully involve Mirage cards. The first cards I owned and built deck with were from Portal and Fifth Edition. When I sought out more cards, the ones most accessible to me were "old" bulk cards from Revised Edition, Ice Age, Alliances, Fourth Edition, Fallen Empires, Homelands, and Chronicles. I also picked up some sealed product from Portal Second Age and tiny amounts of other sets. Until around the time Urza's Saga came out and I built multiple decks based around those new cards, then began trading more and exploring options for improving my decks, I had very little to do with sets outside the ones I just named. There remain some scattered memories of a few cards.
  • I acquired a Sage of Lat-Nam. It was my only card from Antiquities, and I was fascinated by it. I wanted more cards from that old set, but they were either too expensive for me to purchase or otherwise not that easy to find.
  • I saw Knights of Thorn and really liked the art. I forget if I actually owned the card myself, but I don't think I played it, so it was probably something I played against.
  • I picked up a few commons from Arabian Nights and Legends, but generally ones I already owned Chronicles copies of, and I forget how I learned the difference. I mean, the white border is pretty obvious, but I forget where and when I learned what that actually meant.
  • Some kind of resinous material contaminated the top left corner of my Arabian Nights copy of Abu Ja'far. I still own that card. I actually bought a second copy just so that my full set didn't have the ugly crap on the first card in the binder.
And of course, with how Ice Age sort of started to take over my collection, I came across Polar Kraken.

As I think everyone reading this is well aware, Magic on the world wide web was not the way it is now. There was no Gatherer, and even a simple set checklist was something that took some digging to find. Easier to just use Scrye magazine for that sort of thing. The book that came with the Portal gift box had full card images of the entire set, and I'd never seen anything like that. Through the book, I was introduced to a card I looked for, but couldn't find a copy of to add to my collection.

I really liked the art, and it was the biggest creature I'd ever seen. Then I found Polar Kraken, and it was even bigger! Am I a "Timmy"? Maybe. For whatever reason, either because I was misled or because I made an assumption, I believed that Polar Kraken was the biggest creature in the entire game. Phyrexian Dreadnought already existed at this point, but I had never seen one. Like I said, I started out with cards from Portal and Fifth Edition, but then the cheap stuff I was buying after that point was mostly older. I did own some cards from Tempest and also from Mirage, but they were large sets, and it would be a while before I'd glimpse every single rare. Phyrexian Dreadnought was wholly unknown to me. In 1999, I was Exhuming my Polar Kraken in blissful ignorance, erroneously confident that I had just summoned the biggest, baddest, nastiest, scariest creature you'd ever see.

Speaking of the biggest, baddest, nastiest, scariest creature you'll ever see, that's exactly how I first met Phyrexian Dreadnought. Someone at a game store was using B.F.M. from Unglued.

The flavor text mentions "krakens and dreadnoughts for jewelry." And the art had a Polar Kraken as an earring. But what, I asked, was the earring on the other side? So then an experienced player decided to explain the entire joke to me.

"Yeah, I already know that Polar Kraken is an 11/11."
"And Phyrexian Dreadnought is a 12/12."
"Phyrexian Dreadnought."
"It's a 12/12?"
"When did that come out?"
"Mirage. It costs 1 mana."

So yeah, my mind was blown.
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The Tentacled One
I knew that I"d already talked about my old "Kerosene" deck! Found it in the Necropotence thread...

Oversoul said:
In Oscar Tan's primer, there's a mention of another early combo-based Necropotence deck, apparently used by Adrian Sullivan in the 1999 Pro Tour...

4 Necropotence
4 Demonic Consultation
4 Pandemonium
4 Phyrexian Dreadnought
4 Reanimate
4 Mana Vault
4 Dark Ritual
4 Lotus Petal
3 Final Fortune
3 Duress
2 Vampiric Tutor
5 Swamp
4 Badland
4 Sulfurous Springs
4 Gemstone Mine
3 City of Brass

I want to say I've not seen that list anywhere else ever. I also want to say that can't be right. I built my own version of this before learning about the Phyrexian Dreadnought erratum. Or maybe it was after learning about it and this was all theoretical. Maybe I wasn't inspired by this list at all and it was just convergent evolution. I can't remember. I do know that I was building lots of decks with Necropotence back then. Some of them I only ever played in experimental gaming sessions with Al0ysiusHWWW, and some of them never even made it that far because I abandoned them after playing them against myself. I do know that I designed a deck based around Pandemonium and Phyrexian Dreadnought, because I picked up a playset of Pandemonium and that was the first concept I came up with. I also know that I was still toying with this well after the power-level erratum to Phyrexian Dreadnought. By sheer accident, that's one fact I can be reasonably certain of, and I'll unnecessarily provide the anecdote justifying this...

In August of 2000, I went on a road trip with Al0ysiusHWWW and his dad, starting from Kent, Washington and going as far as, ah, somewhere around Madison, Wisconsin (I want to say we didn't go much farther east than that if any, but I can't remember right now). We brought all of our Magic cards along and played a lot along the way. So at one point we stayed at my friend's uncle's house and we were reusing some unwanted forms printed on light green paper for our games, tracking life totals and such. I jotted down decklists on one of the sheets and shoved that folded up piece of scratch paper in with some of my other card supplies. It made the journey back with me. I probably still have the stupid scrap of paper floating around somewhere. I found it and used information from it in one of my Comboist Manifesto articles about three years ago, I think. So yeah. One of the decklists I scribbled on this now-legendary (to me alone) paper was something I called "Kerosene." It was a deck based around the combo of Pandemonium + Phyrexian Dreadnought. Ergo, I was still toying with that concept in the summer of 2000, well after it no longer officially worked.

I don't know. Part of me wants to claim credit for stumbling on yet another deck concept that made it into competitive tournament gameplay. It's actually quite plausible in this case. Necropotence was something I was trying to make work in all sorts of ways back then, and I'd very likely already heard of Cocoa Pebbles, so the notion of Necropotence to dig up multiple pieces of a combo kill was a logical step. Another part of me finds Adrian Sullivan's list eerily familiar, like I might have seen it discussed on some backwater Magic website back in 1999 and been inspired by it myself. It seems like I'd remember details and I don't, but too many of the specific cards (even Final Fortune and Reanimate, which I couldn't have used back then as I did not yet own them) seem like a whole package that I encountered at some point. And yet another part of me has me suspecting that both of those are wrong: I thought I'd abandoned "Kerosene" shortly after jotting down that decklist because Al0ysiusHWWW was the one who owned the copies of Phyrexian Dreadnought. Also, I had a Tolarian Academy combo deck with Necropotence (featuring Initiates of the Ebon Hand to turn blue mana from Academy into black mana for a lethal Drain Life) written down on that very same sheet of paper. I was also testing Necropotence with Firestorm as a kill condition due to my newbish misunderstanding about it needing exactly X targets (note: if you could use it on up to X targets, it would be hilariously broken). And I had multiple variations on my Necropotence + Zur's Weirding prison deck, at least one of which was also jotted down on that sheet of paper. Is it possible that I'm superimposing multiple decks on each other? But then, why does it seem so familiar?

Whatever the case, it's a cool deck that was killed by a bad erratum. Phyrexian Dreadnought has been restored to its former glory, albeit far too late for this concept.
I actually looked for that piece of green paper and, alas, couldn't locate it. I still think that it's the sort of thing I would not have thrown away, but perhaps I did decide to purge it at some point and have since forgotten that. If I ever do find it again, I'm taking photos. I vaguely recall that most of my decklists I jotted down there were Necropotence decks, so it's a bit strange to see my unrelated "Kerosene" deck concept come up in the context of Necropotence decks. Bizarre coincidence. By now, I can't recall what was in the "Kerosene" deck, but I believe that it was essentially a red deck based around two enchantments: Pandemonium and Sneak Attack. It was originally conceived of in 1999, but the decklist I had preserved on the green paper for so many years was jotted down in the summer of 2000. The general idea was to use Pandemonium with Phyrexian Dreadnought to smack my opponent for 12 damage, then Fling the Dreadnought for another 12 damage. Players start with 20 life, so usually 24 damage is lethal.

As I noted in the Necropotence thread, the various errata and updates that came with the Sixth Edition rules changes in 1999 severely nerfed Phyrexian Dreadnought. My "Kerosene" deck would have functioned under Fifth Edition rules, but was no longer valid under the new rules. In hindsight, perhaps Adrian Sullivan's deck was the impetus for this power-level erratum. While I can't recall exactly what I was thinking at the age of 14, I suspect that I either came up with this deck idea before the Sixth Edition rules changes or wasn't yet aware of the change to Phyrexian Dreadnought at the time. By the summer of 2000, I was aware of it, but I was ignoring the rules changes and operating under the assumption of Fifth Edition rules. And when I say that, it sure sounds like this was some act of stubbornness or rebellion. It actually wasn't! As you probably know all too well, the Sixth Edition rules changes were a big deal, and they were frustrating or confusing for a lot of people. Things were different back then, and my local game store essentially made a declaration that they'd still be running games under Fifth Edition rules. I forget how long that lasted, but I was playing in a Fifth Edition rules environment even after the Sixth Edition rules changes were implemented. This wasn't some rebellious teenager thing that my friends and I concocted, and I don't think that the store owner was necessarily being stubborn either. It was a very small store and this was before the advent of robust online material to help judges and answer rules questions. They had a too many big changes come at them too fast and no real help to deal with the changes, so they essentially put a pause on that, until they could learn the new system.

And like I said, I was the one in my playgroup with copies of Pandemonium, and Al0ysiusHWWW was the one with copies of Phyrexian Dreadnought. That was the nail in the coffin for the "Kerosene" deck. Multiple versions of it existed on paper, but I don't think we ever put the deck together using real cards. Al0ysiusHWWW did try to build his own Dreadnought decks, but the power-level erratum was harsh, and I don't think that any of those attempts were long-lived or particularly successful. Still, he was always on the lookout for ways to break Phyrexian Dreadnought.


The Tentacled One
Without actually thinking about it, I've covered several cards in the Magic Memories series that have been dramatically affected in their history by power level errata and rules changes. It dawns on me because this was such a big deal for Karmic Guide, and kind of ruined the card for what should have been prime years. But other examples include Lion's Eye Diamond, Nether Void, Necropotence, and even Lake of the Dead. And maybe I'm in quite the fringe minority here, but as someone trying to write pieces like this one, I find myself frustrated that there isn't really a grand repository archiving all the changes to cards over the years.

The power-level erratum on Phyrexian Dreadnought was implemented for the Sixth Edition rules overhaul in 1999, and it lasted until the Tenth Edition update in 2007. I can find that information. I know what the difference in functionality was because I was there and I dealt with it firsthand, but I can do online searches and come up with examples of people mentioning the issue back then. For instance, here's former CPA member and judge Chris Richter noting the old functionality of the Dreadnought in a 2006 Q&A for Star City Games.

Q: I have Summoner's Egg in play with a Phyrexian Dreadnought imprinted on it. If I cast Crack the Earth, sacrificing my Egg, will I still have to sacrifice creatures to Dreadnought?

A: Yes. When the Egg's leaves-play triggered ability resolves, the face-down imprinted card is put into play if is is a creature card. However, the Dreadnought has the restriction that it will not come into play at all unless you sacrifice creatures with a combined power of 12 or more. If you can't, then the Dreadnought card will go to your graveyard.
And it came up at the CPA as well.

Limited said:
Problem is that Phyrexian Dreadnought has been errated; its ability now reads "If it would come into play" which isn't a CIP but more something along the line of a "As comes into play" rule.
I can even find the exact announcement in which WotC reverted the change, on July 15th, 2007...

Mark Gottlieb said:
The Dreadnought was printed with a comes-into-play ability. You could play it, pop Pandemonium for 12, and then sacrifice it. Or, y'know, do some broken things instead. It got power-level errata to say that unless you sacrificed 12 power worth of creatures first, it never came into play at all. As part of our recent effort to eliminate power-level errata, we're reverting the Dreadnought to its printed functionality.
But the one thing that I haven't (yet) been able to find is, quite simply, the full Oracle text for Phyrexian Dreadnought as it existed in the early-to-mid 00's. I know how the card worked. I don't remember the exact wording, and I can't find it either. I'm going to poke around some more, so perhaps that will change. In the meantime, I'll mock up a version of what it would look like if the power-level erratum had never been reverted. After all, we don't use "comes into play" anymore, and haven't for a long time. So, for clarity, here's the current Oracle text on Phyrexian Dreadnought.


When Phyrexian Dreadnought enters the battlefield, sacrifice it unless you sacrifice any number of creatures with total power 12 or greater.
In contrast, here's what the Oracle text would look like now, if the card functioned the way it did for most of the 00's.


If Phyrexian Dreadnought would enter the battlefield, you may sacrifice any number of creatures with total power 12 or greater. If you do, put Phyrexian Dreadnought onto the battlefield. If you don't, put it into its owner's graveyard.
That difference takes a lot of promising interactions off the table. The old Pandemonium trick that Adrian Sullivan used in 1999 stopped working. And such a brutal nerf would seem to restrict the capability of the card to only the most obscure niches. Of course, people found ways to get around even the bad version of Phyrexian Dreadnought. The earliest example I know of, and certainly the most prominent early example of this, was Paul Barclay's "Full English Breakfast."

3x City of Brass
4x Forest
6x Island
1x Savannah
1x Taiga
4x Tropical Island
2x Undiscovered Paradise
4x Birds of Paradise
1x Bottle Gnomes
1x Elvish Lyrist
1x Flowstone Hellion
1x Gilded Drake
1x Morphling
2x Phyrexian Dreadnought
2x Quirion Ranger
1x Reya Dawnbringer
1x Sliver Queen
1x Squee, Goblin Nabob
3x Tradewind Rider
1x Uktabi Orangutan
4x Volrath's Shapeshifter
4x Wall of Roots
3x Counterspell
4x Force of Will
4x Survival of the Fittest


The Tentacled One
I talked about the "Full English Breakfast" archetype in both the Karmic Guide thread and the Survival of the Fittest thread. So I'm coming back to it again, but I might as well be brief. No need to rehash everything. The defining feature of the archetype is the combination of Volrath's Shapeshifter + Survival of the Fittest, which offers an instant-speed way to change your creature to suit your needs. The low mana cost of Phyrexian Dreadnought was not a primary point of interest for this deck! Full English Breakfast used Drednought because it was a 12/12 trampler, the biggest trampling creature in the game at the time.

Typically, the idea was to have Flowstone Hellion as the top creature of your graveyard, so Volrath's Shapeshifter would have haste. Then you'd stack 11 activations of the Hellion's ability on top of each other and respond to the last one by pitching Phyrexian Dreadnought to Survival of the Fittest. A 23/1 trampling attacker can be pretty lethal. Notably this deck used 2 copies of the Dreadnought, so if things went awry or a game got drawn out, sacrificing a Volrath's Shapeshifter (copying Phyrexian Dreadnought) to cover Phyrexian Dreadnought's entry condition was an option. Reya Dawnbringer could even get the Shapeshifter back. But the main plan was to have Volrath's Shapeshifter copy Phyrexian Dreadnought to set up a kill.

Until now, I'd never thought about how strange it was that Magic's one-drop 12/12 first saw major tournament success for reasons that had nothing to do with its mana cost. FEB just needed the biggest trampler it could get. Presumably if Worldspine Wurm had existed, Paul Barclay would have just used that instead.


The Tentacled One
I mentioned that Al0ysiusHWWW had copies of Phyrexian Dreadnought. He was a fan of the card, but the power-level erratum made it really tricky to use. He experimented with different approaches in our casual games when we were in high school. These attempts were pretty short-lived, and no real successes stand out to me. At some point, he tried to use Ball Lightning (makes some sense, as the creature is just going to die anyway). His biggest Dreadnought project involved the card Carrion. I think he used it to feed a Phyrexian Ghoul, which itself fed the Dreadnought.

These attempts kind of all fell by the wayside on their own. Colossus of Sardia + Voltaic Key involved jumping through fewer hoops, and for a payoff that matched what he wanted out of Phyrexian Dreadnought. During those years, I don't think that I saw Phyrexian Dreadnought from anyone else either. The card occupied a diminished niche, even by casual standards.

And then we got MaskNought. I'll spend some time covering MaskNought, but that requires a sort of preface about what was, at the time, the weirdest card in Magic. It's not hard to notice that Illusionary Mask is older than Phyrexian Dreadnought. The card is from the original core set, aka "base set." So as a combo piece with Phyrexian Dreadnought, it should have always been available. And yet, it was not. Why not? Well, that's where things get so weird. So now we need to delve into the history of Illusionary Mask...
Masknought, I think, was my first encounter with Dreadnought. I still remember it because the deck was so cool. You got to play all the sweet disruptive black cards and a huge threat that closed out the game very quickly. Such a cool deck.


The Tentacled One
The MaskNought combo has generally fallen by the wayside, in part due to power creep. But in its heyday, Illusionary Mask was an infamously powerful card that shifted the balance of power in multiple formats. MaskNought decks ran rampant in Vintage and warped the old Type 1.5 environment enough that Illusionary Mask was preemptively banned on the creation of the Legacy format. Knowing all that and the release dates of the cards themselves, the default assumption would be that Illusionary Mask + Phyrexian Dreadnought started making a splash as early as 1996 or so, since the combo is pretty obvious and players would have figured it out as as soon as Phyrexian Dreadnought was released. There's a simple, albeit bizarre, reason this didn't happen. Although Illusionary Mask was one of the original Magic cards from Limited Edition in 1993, it didn't really do much of anything except confuse people for the first nine years of the game's existence.

As Stephen Menendian put it...

Actually, Illusionary Mask never functioned coherently.

There is no way to restore Mask's original functionality, since it's original functionality was that the creature had the characteristics of itself, but was "hidden." If your opponent cast Terror on your face down White Knight, you were seriously supposed to say "Nope, you can't do that" but didn't have to tell them why.

Illusionary Mask -- in its original functionality -- is like an unglued card.
As I said, Illusionary Mask never functioned in its original terms. It's like an unglued card. It's Chaos Orb except you need a judge the whole time. If you thought that needing to call a judge when you flip Chaos Orb is bad, you would need a judge at your table as long as you controlled a Mask in order to make sure that the card was being represented properly.

The fundamental problem is that the hidden information is the point of the card's original functionality.
He also helpfully cited some commentary from the Judge Archives in the 90's, and there's some amusing reading to be found there. The highlight of all this has to be Beth Moursund's ruling on what happens if a Clone copies a face-down creature...

bethmo said:
A Clone or Doppelganger can be made of a face down creature. Your opponent does not need to tell you anything about your creature's power/toughness or abilities. The opponent must, however, inform you of the results of actions you take (i.e. how much damage was done, or whether tapping the creature allows you some special ability).
This wasn't the only glaring holdover from some of the wonky and untenable game design of the early days of Magic, but for egregious of an issue Illusionary Mask was, it really managed to last a long time in this state. And it seems that this is really down to a lack of tournament impact. Illusionary Mask in its original form had no apparent applications that were even close to tournament-viable, and the awkwardness of what was essentially a single obscure Unglued card existing in black-bordered casual Magic didn't cause enough of a stir for anyone at WotC to tackle the card in the big rules changes that came along with Fifth Edition. The Sixth Edition rules changes did kind of address Illusionary Mask in a patchwork way that theoretically would have made it more functional if anyone tried to play it in a tournament setting, but which preserved the original intent of the card and didn't really address the aforementioned problems that Stephen Menendian brought up.

In October of 2002, WotC introduced the morph mechanic and came up with more robust rules around how face-down permanents work. This meant changes to Camouflage and Illusionary Mask, which had previously been doing their own vague stuff with face-down permanents.


The Rules team at WotC floated a few proposals for these cards, and the interaction with Phyrexian Dreadnought seems to have been pointed out almost immediately (I haven't found a source for the first person to mention the Dreadnought in this context, but I have found Paul Barclay mentioning Phyrexian Dreadnought with context implying that the interaction was already known to him. Here's the version of rules text that they settled on for Illusionary Mask back when Onslaught was new.

X: Put a creature card with converted mana cost X or less from your hand into play face down as a 0/1 creature. Put X mask counters on that creature. Play this ability only any time you could play a sorcery. You may turn the creature face up any time you could play an instant by removing all mask counters from it.
And so MaskNought was born!


The Tentacled One
Tainted Mask (Chris Flaaten, November 2002)
4 Illusionary Mask
4 Phyrexian Dreadnought
3 Phyrexian Negator
2 Hypnotic Specter
4 Duress
2 Unmask
1 Hymn to Tourach
1 Mind Twist
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
1 Necropotence
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Demonic Consultation
1 Vampiric Tutor
4 Tainted Pact
1 Recoil
1 Black Lotus
1 Sol Ring
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Pearl
4 Dark Ritual
3 Mishra’s Factory
3 Underground Sea
1 Underground River
3 Snow-Covered Swamp
3 Swamp
2 Bloodstained Mire
2 Polluted Delta

1 Timetwister
1 Lord of Tresserhorn
2 Dystopia
2 Recoil
2 Contagion
2 Diabolic Edict
2 Cursed Totem
1 Unmask
1 Zuran Orb
1 Phyrexian Negator

Venguer Masque (Carl Devos, March 2003)
4 Phyrexian Dreadnought
3 Volrath’s Shapeshifter
1 Gilded Drake
1 Voidmage Apprentice
1 Nantuko Vigilante
1 Tradewind Rider
1 Morphling
1 Genesis
1 Squee, Goblin Nabob
4 Illusionary Mask
4 Survival of the Fittest
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
4 Force of Will
3 Brainstorm
4 Birds of Paradise
2 Quirion Ranger
3 Wall of Roots
1 Black Lotus
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Emerald
2 Flooded Strand
2 Polluted Delta
1 Wooded Foothills
4 Tropical Island
4 Forest
4 Island

3 Back to Basics
1 Bottle Gnomes
1 Druid Lyrist
1 Elvish Lyrist
2 Misdirection
1 Naturalize
1 Ravenous Baloth
1 Squee, Goblin Nabob
1 Suq’Ata Firewalker
2 Uktabi Orangutan
1 Waterfront Bouncer


The Tentacled One
The Riddler (Eric Miller, January 2005)
1 Karn, Silver Golem
1 Platinum Angel
1 Sundering Titan
1 Triskelion
2 Juggernaut
4 Phyrexian Dreadnought
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Enlightened Tutor
1 Hurkyl's Recall
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Balance
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Time Walk
1 Timetwister
1 Tinker
2 Fabricate
1 Hanna's Custody
1 Black Lotus
1 Mana Crypt
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Sol Ring
2 Crucible of Worlds
4 Illusionary Mask
4 Trinisphere
1 Ancient Tomb
1 City of Traitors
1 Strip Mine
1 Tolarian Academy
3 Mishra's Workshop
4 City of Brass
4 Gemstone Mine
4 Wasteland

2 Arcane Laboratory
2 Chalice of the Void
1 Choke
2 Defense Grid
2 Hanna's Custody
1 Hurkyl's Recall
1 Ray of Revelation
2 Sacred Ground
2 Stifle

Deez Noughts (Nate Moersfeld, September 2008)
2 Dimir Cutpurse
4 Dark Confidant
4 Phyrexian Dreadnought
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Brainstorm
1 Echoing Truth
1 Impulse
1 Misdirection
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Vampiric Tutor
2 Spell Snare
4 Force of Will
4 Stifle
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Ponder
1 Time Walk
4 Duress
1 Black Lotus
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Sensei's Divining Top
3 Illusionary Mask
1 Flooded Strand
1 Strip Mine
1 Swamp
2 Island
3 Wasteland
4 Polluted Delta
4 Underground Sea

1 Darkblast
2 Extirpate
3 Hurkyl's Recall
3 Thorn of Amethyst
2 Threads of Disloyalty
3 Tormod's Crypt
1 Wipe Away


The Tentacled One
A minor, but important, correction...

I found some archived posts on TheManaDrain referring to the Mask + Dreadnought combo in mid-2002. Illusionary Mask had already been changed in a way that enabled the combo to work essentially as it does now. What changed in October was that it was changed to function more robustly and to not conflict with the Morph mechanic. This had the side effect, anticipated or not, of substantially improving Illusionary Mask.
  • Although the original text refers to summoning a creature, this version treated Mask as having an activated ability to put a creature out directly. It was kind of like a sorcery-speed Aether Vial. Creatures deployed with Illusionary Mask couldn't be hit by Counterspell or similar cards, as no spell was being cast.
  • Originally, colored mana requirements remained in place, but when WotC worked to come up with clean, Morph-friendly template here, they dropped that. So this version of Mask could cheat colored mana requirements in creature spell costs.
  • Rather than faithfully interpreting the clunky list of conditions under which the creature is turned face-up, this version of Mask made the flip an instant-speed ability. You had a 0/1 until exactly when you wanted to turn the card face-up and have it become its proper self.
Interestingly, only one of those three upgrades really mattered to Phyrexian Dreadnought, and even then it wasn't a huge deal. The important part was just dodging the Dreadnought's own drawback. Once Illusionary Mask could do that, a two-card package was available that made a 12/12 trampler for 3 mana. However, MaskNought decks didn't just use the combo in a vacuum. Giving Illusionary Mask more utility meant that the combo itself was more robust, which was indirectly better for Phyrexian Dreadnought as a tournament card. I think that a lot of players thought of the combo was just being two dead cards that were only viable when were present, but MaskNought decks did prove greater nuance. This being the Phyrexian Dreadnought thread, I plan to go into more detail about how Phyrexian Dreadnought had some utility even without Illusionary Mask. It's also important to note that Illusionary Mask itself has uses beyond just cheating out Phyrexian Dreadnought.

You could deploy Birds of Paradise with an Island. You could make Hypnotic Specter uncounterable. You could leave a Juggernaut sitting around without needing to attack until the time was right. You could bait opponents into using removal on the wrong creature or making the wrong blocks. You could let Phyrexian Negator die without needing to sacrifice anything.