Magic Memories: Phyrexian Dreadnought

Oversoul

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.
1660321591026.png

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.
1660321813423.png

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.
1660322377036.png1660322382723.png

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."
"What?"
"Phyrexian Dreadnought."
"It's a 12/12?"
"Yeah."
"When did that come out?"
"Mirage. It costs 1 mana."

So yeah, my mind was blown.
 
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Oversoul

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.
 

Oversoul

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.

Trample

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.

Trample

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
 

Oversoul

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.
 

Oversoul

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.
1662135791471.png

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.
 

Oversoul

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.

1664211401452.png1664211416224.png

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!
 

Oversoul

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

Sideboard:
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

Sideboard:
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
 

Oversoul

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

Sideboard:
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

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

Oversoul

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.
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
In this thread, there was a bit of discussion about MaskNought, both when the thread was new and last year, after I thread-necromancied it. That magazine was my first exposure to the idea of a MaskNought deck, and served the same purpose for a lot of others too. I believe that the price on Illusionary Mask spiked hard after that issue of InQuest.

Of course, once I showed it to my friend that owned a playset of Phyrexian Dreadnought, he became determined to pick up a playset of Illusionary Mask to go along with them. And this would turn out not to be the only MaskNought deck I'd be going up against, but I didn't know that. Not yet...
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
Back in 2003, Al0ysiusHWWW was able to spend a lot more money on Magic cards than I could. But Illusionary Mask was a bit much for his budget. He picked up three copies, but didn't have a fourth to complete his playset. So his first MaskNought decks all only had three copies of Illusionary Mask. Eventually, he picked up a fourth copy for cheap. I should post a picture of it. I still have it. The card is in damaged condition, presumably from having accidentally been through a wash cycle in someone's pocket at some point. Al0ysiusHWWW was a pretty early adopter of opaque-backed card sleeves, so getting a damaged card to complete his playset saved him some money. In the case of this particular damaged card, the severe flimsiness of it even in a relatively thick sleeve would disqualify it from tournament play. But tournament play wasn't really a concern for Al0ysiusHWWW. Here's one version of his decklist, from early 2004.

4x Phyrexian Dreadnought
4x Illusionary Mask
3x Phyrexian Negator
3x Hypnotic Specter
4x Duress
4x Hymn to Tourach
4x Unmask
4x Necropotence
2x Demonic Tutor
2x Demonic Consultation
2x Vampiric Tutor
2x Sink Hole
4x Dark Ritual
4x Strip Mine
2x Peat Bog
6x Swamp
6x Snow-Covered Swamp

He posted that list (or a very similar one, anyway) here at the CPA, and caused some debate over his use of multiple copies of Necropotence, Demonic Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, Demonic Consultation, and Strip Mine. Those cards were and are restricted in Vintage, so the deck was "illegal." He didn't really care, and found amusement at seeing me leap to his defense over this. I think that I've covered this general issue in other Magic Memories threads, and I don't want to beat a dead horse. But since I can't recall exactly what I have and haven't said, I'll try to provide some meaningful context now, hoping that I don't sound too repetitive, since some of these details have certainly come up in other Magic Memories threads.

Al0ysiusHWWW and I attended the same school through the Spring of 2001. My family had moved at the beginning of that year, with our new house being a bit less than a nine-mile drive from the old one. We attended different high schools after that, but remained close friends and played Magic together. For reasons we don't need to delve into here, the two of us developed this weird pact of not using cards from sets released after Prophecy. That was our cutoff. We played with mutual friends and with other groups at our separate high schools, and this pact didn't apply to any of those other people, but we stuck to it for all of our decks, not just when playing against each other. A few of the high school friends we had participated in some booster drafts, Standard, Block Constructed, and Extended tournaments. But most people in most of our playgroups just played casually with whatever cards they owned, the only concrete rules being 60-card minimum decks, the 4-copy playset rule, and a prohibition against Unglued (and later Unhinged) cards. If that sounds like a broken format, well, so is EDH. The whole thing only worked because there was a general social understanding that decks should be played against other decks at compatible power levels. On occasion, I did meet players who defaulted to the Type 1 restricted list as a blanket rule even for casual play, but never in my core play groups. Prior to joining the CPA, this mostly consisted of store employees or other experienced Magic players raising the issue when someone in my playgroups was buying a card. "You know that's restricted, right?" Saw it happen with Windfall, and experienced it myself when I was picking up two copies of Mind Twist.

In this context, I think that Al0ysiusHWWW's deck makes some sense. We'd both played in some Type 1.5 tournaments in the past, but that format had seemingly died off in our area, and most players just weren't even familiar with it. A Type 1 MaskNought deck was beyond the budget that our playgroups had to work with. Start slinging Black Lotus and Ancestral Recall and it really changes things. Using the cards we did have access to, mono-black MaskNought was pretty powerful. Even by our standards, this deck was something of a shark. It wasn't actually the most broken of our decks (that distinction probably belonged to my Tolarian Academy deck). But it was reasonably close. Making it a bit too powerful on purpose was sort of the idea this time: Al0ysiusHWWW knew that future sets would introduce powerful cards, and he had intended to get rid of virtually his entire collection, so his hope was that this deck would remain viable for years to come. With this notion, trying to fit the deck to a format as of late 2003 (when he completed his playset of Illusionary Mask) wouldn't have been a priority anyway.

It might have been interesting if Al0ysiusHWWW had tried to do a version of this deck for Type 1.5. Tutors fueled consistency, but the deck could have functioned without them. Strip Mine could be replaced with Wasteland. The tricky part is finding something to compensate for the loss of Necropotence. In the Nether Void thread, I noted that Al0ysiusHWWW experimented with Nether Void in MaskNought (he bought two copies of the card). Perhaps Nether Void and a bigger suite of creatures to deploy with Mask (which circumvented Nether Void back them) would have worked. But I don't think that Nether Void made its way into his MaskNought deck until 2005. Of course, MaskNought decks were prolific in Vintage, but the lack of Power 9 cards and the deck construction differences that this led to made the idea of trying to build a budget Vintage MaskNought deck unappealing to Al0ysiusHWWW.

Later developments in 2004 would reshape how Al0ysiusHWWW played Magic anyway. He would go on to "quit" and give me almost all of his cards except for his Invasion Block stuff, then to come back and immediately break our "no cards newer than Prophecy" pact, terrorizing me with Scalpalexis. He'd get into the Mirrodin Block Constructed format, and try to convince me to join him in that. And then the old Type 1.5 would be replaced with the Legacy format, and he'd join me in focusing on that.

If I remember correctly, Al0ysiusHWWW's MaskNought deck stuck around well into 2005, and might not have been taken apart until the next time he "quit" Magic. But it was really just something he kept in storage. Toward the end, I was probably the only person who actually ever played against it anymore. The banning of Illusionary Mask in the creation of the Legacy format meant that the deck didn't really have a home anymore.
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
I was going to talk about Phyrexian Dreadnought in Legacy, but before I move on, I should make a more substantial note on the archetype generally known as "Vengeur Masque." It was an important deck in the tournament metagame in its day and it paved the way for some later developments. A bit strangely, this was probably the MaskNought deck that I simply had the least experience with, this despite it being perhaps the most historically relevant version.

The "Tainted Mask" deck was something of a prototype, the foundation on which later MaskNought decks would build their own frameworks. Al0ysiusHWWW explored mono-black options because of budget constraints, but a blue splash would have been an upgrade if he'd access to Power 9 cards. I recall that some our discussions, and discussions I knew him to be involved elsewhere, revolved around this issue. It seemed that in his mind, there was Powered-up black/blue build and a few variations on an un-Powered mono-black version of the same deck. Of course, a third option was already well-established, and would go on to supersede those two. Vengeur Masque: the deck that slotted the MaskNought package into a blue-based "Full English Breakfast" shell.

My memory is, alas, imperfect. I remember that Al0ysiusHWWW, an avid Survival of the Fittest fan, did not pursue this pathway for his own MaskNought deck. But the details escape me. It may be that he viewed some of the other missing pieces as pushing the budget too far, or that he really liked the appeal of Dark Ritual into a first turn Dreadnought. Maybe he traded away his copies of Survival of the Fittest and didn't have them back then: I vaguely recall another friend of ours building a Survival deck. He might have been more comfortable with hand attack and land destruction as more secure long-term elements for his "final" deck, although I cannot remember if he settled on the mono-black archetype before or after he determined that this deck was to be his last. Or maybe he wanted to outdo me as our playgroup's traditional Necropotence player. It's even possible that I dissuaded him from Vengeur Masque because I thought it was weaker or something.

I just can't remember. There are fragments that jump into my mind, but nothing I trust enough to put down here. Some combination of the above factors? Or some other thing I never even thought of. I either never really knew, or I've forgotten at some point in the past 19 years. Either way, black-based MaskNought decks became our focus, and we tested various builds, both including fully-Powered lists we lacked the actual cards for, and for-real decks that Al0ysiusHWWW put together and played. We did not substantially test Vengeur Masque, and I ended up with virtually no experience with or against that archetype. But it did well for itself in Vintage tournaments. And it's not hard to see why.

The Full English Breakfast shell has a few advantages that black-based MaskNought decks didn't have access to.
  • You have countermagic and enough blue slots to run Force of Will, protecting your combo.
  • You have better utility creatures.
  • You have Brainstorm and shufflers, for greater consistency in hand-sculpting.
  • Tradewind Rider can grind out control matchups.
  • Volrath's Shapeshifter can copy a flying creature to get past blockers, then copy Phyrexian Dreadnought for full damage to the face.
  • Opponents that use removal against Survival of the Fittest could find themselves with no protection after it's followed up by Illusionary Mask.
  • Opponents that kill Phyrexian Dreadnought have to deal with Volrath's Shapeshifter copying it (Illusionary Mask enables this right away).
And that was just the earliest versions. As Vengeur Masque evolved, it would shift toward even more broken kills. Pitch Akroma to give Volrath's Shapeshifter haste and flying, pitch Phyrexian Dreadnought to give it enough trample damage that some gets through to the opponent, then with combat damage on the stack pitch Phage, the Untouchable.

This was arguably the strongest MaskNought deck up until it was kinda-sorta undone by two rules changes. First, Phyrexian Dreadnought lost its power-level erratum, meaning that Stifle could be used to cheat it out. Stifle was a much more flexible card that Illusionary Mask, so MaskNought almost immediately gave way to StifleNought. Second, Illusionary Mask got hit with is own changes, to bring it more in line with its original text. It had to care about mana color again and could no longer dodge countermagic and such. So Phyrexian Dreadnought remained a valid tool for Survival of the Fittest decks featuring Volrath's Shapeshifter, but Vengeur Masque was effectively no longer worth playing.
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
It's high time I address the Legacy format with this one. The MaskNought archetype came into existence in 2002 and became firmly entrenched as part of the Vintage metagame in 2003. Noting the timing though, Legacy didn't exist as a format until September of 2004. Of course, Legacy replaced the old Type 1.5 format, but MaskNought decks there were effectively just powered-down versions of their Vintage counterparts.

I might have told this story already, but on the day that WotC first announced the new Type 1.5 format that would later be renamed Legacy, I was at Al0ysiusHWWW's house. I just happened to check the Magic home page. I stared, transfixed, at the news. The new format was like a dream come true. I mean, it wasn't perfect: they were banning Goblin Recruiter, after all. But I thought of it as an ideal middle-ground that could be inhabited by both casual scrubs and tournament grinders. I'd be able to use my old cards, but basically all of the broken stuff that was financially inaccessible was banned. I probably don't need to tell you that the years have not been kind to that idealization. To start from scratch, a competitive Legacy deck these days would range somewhere between $2,000 and $10,000, with most top decks sitting somewhere in the middle of that range. But in 2004, even some broke 19-year-old like me could put together a decent Legacy deck. So from day one, I was enthusiastic about the Legacy format, and I had high hopes to get every player I knew on board.

In hindsight, I can't really criticize my enthusiasm much. Things didn't work out the way I hoped, but all the reasons I thought that Legacy was super-cool really did apply. My more tournament-oriented friends stuck with the established tournament formats, and Legacy took a while to establish itself on the tournament scene. My more casual friends weren't as enthusiastic as I was, and were mostly slow to adopt Legacy as a format of choice. By the time the format became more established, I was too busy with work and school to play much Magic anyway, and most of the people I played Magic with either quit the game, moved away, or lost touch with me. At various points, we'd talk about getting a Legacy "team" going, but actual attempts were sporadic and short-lived. Ultimately, I only ever attended a few small Legacy tournaments, and no big ones. Weirdly, I kept getting fourth place.

Illusionary Mask was on the initial Legacy ban list. It stayed on the list until June of 2010. This turned out not to keep Phyrexian Dreadnought out of the format. The "Full English Breakfast" tech of Volrath's Shapeshifter + Survival of the Fittest continued to make use of Phyrexian Dreadnought as the archetype made the shift to a new format. It also kinda-sorta merged with the old "Rec-Sur" archetype. Here's an early list...

1 Academy Rector
1 Arcanis the Omnipotent
1 Elvish Aberration
1 Eternal Witness
1 Flowstone Hellion
1 Genesis
1 Masticore
1 Morphling
1 Phage the Untouchable
1 Phyrexian Dreadnought
1 Reya Dawnbringer
1 Sliver Queen
1 Squee, Goblin Nabob
1 Viridian Shaman
1 Viridian Zealot
2 Wall of Roots
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Volrath's Shapeshifter
2 Enlightened Tutor
3 Counterspell
4 Force of Will
1 Recurring Nightmare
4 Survival of the Fittest
1 Bayou
1 Savannah
1 Taiga
1 Undiscovered Paradise
3 Tropical Island
4 City of Brass
4 Forest
6 Island

Sideboard:
1 Phyrexian Ghoul
3 Pithing Needle
1 Plaguebearer
1 Platinum Angel
3 Pyroblast
1 Sacred Ground
1 Seal of Cleansing
1 Spore Frog
1 Tortured Existence
1 Worship
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
I should address a point of embarrassment for myself here. Over the years, I've written a lot about the Legacy ban list. Much of that was here at the CPA, but not all of it. Ever since Legacy was created in 2004, I've been consistent about some things. I called for Land Tax unban from the start, right up until we eventually got one, and I believe I was vindicated on that one. I called for an Earthcraft unban from the start, and I still call for one. Illusionary Mask? I used to be pretty wrongheaded about this one. I was in favor of it being banned in Legacy, and was shocked to see it come off the ban list in 2010.

In 2004, I simply wrote...

Many of the cards banned in Legacy are banned not only because of inherent power, but because they present a financial barrier (Legacy is supposed to be cheaper than Vintage). Not every card that costs more than $50 is banned in Legacy, but most of the pricey cards that are particularly powerful are on the banned list. Some of these cards are restricted in Vintage. Some of them are used extensively there. Cards that I'm lumping into this category are: Ancestral Recall, Bazaar of Baghdad, Black Lotus, Illusionary Mask, Library of Alexandria, Mana Crypt, Mana Drain, Mishra's Workshop, Mox Emerald, Mox Jet, Mox Pearl, Mox Ruby, Mox Sapphire, Time Walk, and Timetwister. Very few, if any, of these cards would ever be considered for unbanning if they happened to be widely available. And it is also quite unlikely that any of them will become widely available in the near future.
The whole $50 price point thing was something I made up on my own, not an official or even unofficial part of the Legacy format, and it would soon become an obsolete notion. Even at the time, I had to ignore the relevance of cards like Nether Void, Candelabra of Tawnos, and The Abyss in order for that $50 idea to work. But those were corner cases! And back then all the dual lands, Mox Diamond, Gaea's Cradle, etc. were all below that price point. In 2022, Legacy is the textbook example of a non-budget format. People say that it's going extinct because it's too expensive. But yeah, in the 00's, I still very much held onto the ideal that Legacy could be the budget-friendly format for all players, the closest thing to a universal format the game could have. In hindsight, it might sound surreal. Jogging my memory, I do see why I thought this way, and it doesn't seem so ridiculous.

The notion that Illusionary Mask and the MaskNought deck were too powerful for Legacy, independently of financial concerns, is another issue. Given the context of 2004, with MaskNought being a top Vintage deck, I think that's reasonable. I had the notion back then, if not today, that Vintage powerhouse build-around cards are either worth banning in Legacy or worth more consideration as bans in Legacy. Stuff like Bazaar of Baghdad, Oath of Druids, and Mishra's Workshop. At the time, I'd have put Illusionary Mask in that same category, and I think that other people would have as well.

In June of 2010, Wizards of the Coast banned Mystical Tutor and unbanned Grim Monolith and Illusionary Mask. My reaction...

Illusionary Mask in Legacy, though? Are they insane?

Edit: I can't make any sense of what they did to Legacy here. Not going to post about it until I've had time to consider it. I'm against Mask anyway because it costs a fortune and I like the idea of Legacy being affordable to players that aren't filthy rich. I'm fine with unbanning Grim Monolith. Good call probably. Banning Mystical Tutor makes no sense whatsoever. It's like they picked a random good card and decided to axe it just because they were bored.
Well, Stiflenought is already a great strategy. It's possible that Mask won't be a desireable addition though, although I would think that it will be, and it will join the ranks of Imperial Recruiter, Tabernacle, and other cards that can make for good decks, but that most players simply cannot afford. We already have a playset, though, as Al0ysius built a Masknought deck years ago and apparently still has the Masks.
So yeah, I spoke out against the Illusionary Mask unban largely on financial grounds. Legacy was starting to become more expensive, and I was frustrated that an expensive card was being released into the format. Amusingly, I was fine with the Grim Monolith unban, and Grim Monolith is now worth a bit more money than Illusionary Mask.

My embarrassment is tempered a bit, because I did acknowledge that StifleNought decks might not even bother with Illusionary Mask anyway, and this was all pretty much overshadowed by my reaction to the Mystical Tutor ban. To me, the Mystical Tutor ban was a much bigger problem, and it still strikes me as one of the all-time dumbest ban list changes in history. That's a bit too much of a tangent for this thread, but the most important thing I ever said on the subject was in an now-gone CPA front page article.

The game moves on after a card is banned. New cards are printed, deck archetypes evolve, and eventually there are important differences between the environment as it was when a card was banned and the environment as it is now. Of course, this means that it is possible to be in favor of a ban on a card, and later to still agree that it had to be banned, but to want it to be unbanned because the format might be better with it around. There's another side to that coin. It is possible to be opposed to a ban, to say in retrospect that the ban was a mistake, but to eschew an unban in the current environment. And that's my position on Mystical Tutor. It wasn't dominating, the arguments for banning it were inane, and in retrospect, I still can't get over how bad the case was for such a ban. But the format moved on. We lost two of the best combo decks of the time, but they were eventually replaced with other decks. Other factors changed. This was before the rise of Sneak and Show. It was before Past in Flames emerged and changed Ad Nauseam decks. I don't know whether Mystical Tutor would be safe to unban, but I'm wary enough not to want it unbanned right now, especially because it could break other cards in a combo deck and then something would need to be banned anyway.
Another aspect of this that old forum quotes of mine doesn't capture is that I got a rude awakening not too much later. You see, I discussed the ban list changes with Al0ysiusHWWW soon after I made those posts. He knew that I was building an Ad Nauseam Tendrils deck, and that the Mystical Tutor ban killed the deck just as I was on the verge of acquiring the last cards I needed to flesh it out. But I also asked him if he was excited for the Mask unban, since he was the one who'd built MaskNought before and still owned a playset of Masks. His reply was something like, "Meh, StifleNought is better than MaskNought anyway, and I'm not building a StifleNought deck." I was shocked. At the time, I thought there was a real likelihood that Illusionary Mask would make Legacy StifleNought a stronger deck, and here was the resident MaskNought expert dismissing that possibility. Harsh.

So yeah, I was wrong about Illusionary Mask. Totally wrong. I now believe that it was almost certainly always a safe unban in Legacy.
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
Now that I bother to look at it, this wasn't the best picture. But here's my copy #4 of Illusionary Mask. The others are in much, much better condition...
1667312560306.png
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
As I mentioned earlier in this thread, the power-level erratum on Phyrexian Dreadnought was rescinded in July of 2007. Stifle, which had originally been printed well after the erratum was established, would from then on function as a Dreadnought enabler. In addition to being half the mana cost of Illusionary Mask, Stifle was generally a flexible Magic card. In Legacy, its best-known use has probably been to counter the activation of opposing fetchlands, effectively behaving as a one-drop land destruction spell.

While Illusionary Mask did still have some potential advantages and MaskNought decks in Vintage were not immediately killed, this opened up Legacy to their own equivalent. By the time Illusionary Mask was unbanned in 2010, Stifle and Trickbind had already established themselves as better enablers for Phyrexian Dreadnought. Here's an example of an early StifleNought list...

3 Flooded Strand
5 Island
4 Polluted Delta
1 Swamp
4 Underground Sea
3 Wasteland
4 Dark Confidant
4 Phyrexian Dreadnought
3 Trinket Mage
4 Brainstorm
3 Daze
4 Duress
4 Force of Will
3 Spell Snare
4 Stifle
2 Trickbind
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Lotus Petal
1 Sensei's Divining Top
2 Threads of Disloyalty

Sideboard:
4 Engineered Plague
3 Extirpate
1 Pithing Needle
3 Smother
2 Sower of Temptation
1 Threads of Disloyalty
1 Tormod's Crypt

Phyrexian Dreadnought makes a lot of sense as something to slot into a Dark Confidant deck. And notably, Trinket Mage is capable of fetching any given artifact that this list runs. Back then I didn't notice it, but it occurs to me now that Lotus Petal is a sneaky way to enable Engineered Explosives with X=3.

Straightforward StifleNought decks like this didn't really attain that much popular success, but looking back at them now, I'm impressed with how well they still hold up. The disruptive utility in this list really adds up, and the sheer power of Phyrexian Dreadnought gives the deck speed too. The vulnerability of the Dreadnought to artifact removal, creature removal, bounce spells, and practically anything else that isn't just regular damage is the glaring weakness that these lists all share. Phyrexian Dreadnought needed a backup plan. And Legacy players would find one...
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
As 2008 progressed, Dreadnought decklists tended to shift toward the package that would become known as "DreadStill." It's what the name suggests. The Mishra's Factory + Standstill combo was quick, efficient, and punished control and aggro-control decks effectively while maintaining utility against the field as a whole. Traditionally, this "LandStill" package was the purview of blue/white hard control decks, but that approach had become outmoded. Goblins decks and Zoo decks could push through Standstill and aim for a kill while ignoring the enchantment. Solidarity decks didn't care about their own life, and they'd often simply drop islands and wait to set up a combo kill that could play around Force of Will. Even CounterTop decks had options to mitigate Mishra's Factory and outperform Standstill.

Perhaps one way to look at it is simply that the novel StifleNought lists presented another compact one-two punch that didn't really share any of the same weaknesses as the older LandStill decks. The two packages could both fit in the same deck, and they covered most of the metagame between them. And so, DreadStill was born...

2 Trinket Mage
3 Tarmogoyf
4 Phyrexian Dreadnought
1 Misdirection
2 Trickbind
3 Daze
4 Brainstorm
4 Force of Will
4 Spell Snare
4 Stifle
3 Thoughtseize
4 Standstill
1 Engineered Explosives
2 Tropical Island
2 Underground Sea
3 Flooded Strand
3 Polluted Delta
3 Wasteland
4 Island
4 Mishra's Factory

Sideboard:
4 Blue Elemental Blast
2 Engineered Explosives
4 Extirpate
3 Krosan Grip
2 Tormod's Crypt

A common experience playing against DreadStill was to break the Standstill only for the DreadStill player to draw into a counter to whatever spell you had cast in the first place, and to see it followed up with Phyrexian Dreadnought + Stifle. And a Phyrexian Dreadnought on the table when Standstill itself resolves is virtually a death sentence for the victim. This archetype was able to sling control and removal spells with the most oppressive decks in the format at the time, and often came out on top. Yet its potential for fast, lethal damage enabled it to outrace aggro and combo decks.

Putting it that way, I think I make it sound like DreadStill was the best deck in Legacy. And really, there's an argument to be made that it was. But it did have bad matchups too. By this point, Ichorid decks were pretty prevalent, and neither Standstill nor Phyrexian Dreadnought were much use against Ichorid-based Dredge decks. Pox decks could grind out wins against DreadStill. Traditional LandStill decks were favored in Standstill wars against the new archetype. CounterTop was a reasonably close matchup. Without really having access to data to prove my point, and just going by my own flawed memory, I seriously think that Reanimator was a strong contender for the top deck around this time, and that DreadStill had a pretty lousy matchup against Reanimator.

Phyrexian Dreadnought, alongside Stifle, fit pretty easily into some other decks. Early Depths decks used Vampire Hexmage to remove counters from Dark Depths and cheat out Marit Lage, but they needed a backup option, and Phyrexian Dreadnought + Stifle fit the bill...

4 Dark Confidant
4 Phyrexian Dreadnought
4 Vampire Hexmage
3 Spell Snare
4 Brainstorm
4 Daze
4 Force of Will
4 Smother
4 Stifle
4 Thoughtseize
1 Mox Diamond
1 Marsh Flats
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Swamp
2 Island
2 Underground Sea
2 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
3 Dark Depths
4 Polluted Delta
4 Wasteland

Sideboard:
2 Chalice of the Void
3 Echoing Truth
2 Hurkyl's Recall
4 Hydroblast
4 Tormod's Crypt

This represents more of a return to form for the older "StifleNought" concept and the general utility of blue/black control decks. As Depths lists go, it's looks kind of primitive, with Thespian's Stage still a couple of years away from being printed. But a 20/20 flying creature is a 20/20 flying creature.

There were also some successful attempts at squeezing Phyrexian Dreadnought into the CounterTop archetype...

2 Trinket Mage
3 Dark Confidant
3 Meddling Mage
3 Mother of Runes
4 Phyrexian Dreadnought
2 Trickbind
3 Daze
4 Brainstorm
4 Force of Will
4 Stifle
4 Swords to Plowshares
3 Counterbalance
2 Sensei's Divining Top
1 Plains
2 Island
2 Polluted Delta
3 Underground Sea
3 Wasteland
4 Flooded Strand
4 Tundra

Sideboard:
3 Engineered Plague
3 Extirpate
3 Path to Exile
3 Perish
1 Propaganda
2 Spell Pierce

Trinket Mage puts in a lot of work for this deck, and Mother of Runes as added protection is a nice touch. Most other CounterTop decks of this era would have been more consistent, but less capable of immediately closing out games.

There was another StifleNought archetype, which I'd actually forgotten about until recently: Merfolk. This one requires a bit of explanation...

3 Phyrexian Dreadnought
3 Renegade Doppelganger
4 Cursecatcher
4 Lord of Atlantis
4 Merrow Reejerey
4 Silvergill Adept
4 Daze
4 Force of Will
4 Stifle
2 Umezawa's Jitte
3 Aether Vial
1 Mishra's Factory
2 Mutavault
4 Wasteland
14 Island

Sideboard:
2 Blue Elemental Blast
3 Counterbalance
2 Propaganda
1 Relic of Progenitus
3 Spell Pierce
2 Threads of Disloyalty
2 Tormod's Crypt

Legacy Merfolk decks in this era leaned a lot on Umezawa's Jitte. A Dreadnought, whether its ability was cheated through Stifle or tapped merfolk were simply sacrificed to it the old-fashioned way when it was deployed through Aether Vial, represented a deadly top-end finishing blow for archetype. A 12/12 trampler equipped with an overloaded Jitte was simply going to trample over anything the format had to block it. That plus the utility of Stifle might have been enough to warrant running the combo in what was already a blue aggro deck anyway. But Renegade Doppelganger offered a second combo outlet for the Dreadnought. Just cast Phyrexian Dreadnought the regular way and let it die. In retrospect, it might seem odd that neither Renegade Doppelganger nor Phyrexian Dreadnought are actually merfolk, and were key cards in the Merfolk tribal lists of this era. But in terms of sequencing and general game flow, both cards helped the already-potent Merfolk archetype play to its strengths.

In 2010, any of these Dreadnought decks could have shown up and done well in tournaments. That was the world at the time Illusionary Mask was unbanned. And I knew this. Looking back, it seems rather foolish of me to think that unbanning Illusionary Mask was a big deal.
 
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