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Author Topic: Survival Based Mask  (Read 3937 times)
« on: December 14, 2003, 11:09:12 pm »

Survival Mask Discussion

This is not intended to be a primer or a flame war.  This is merely supposed to be a discussion of sorts on the merits of different ideas in Survival based mask ideas, and the fact that I may highlight some things more traditionally found in primer pieces should be taken as a means of which to educate those that would assist in the discussion.  I'm going to attempt to cover all my bases so everyone knows exactly where I'm coming from on my (many) opinions.

I realize I'm being a little hypocritical, but I would like this conversation to remain as civil as possible.  These boards have been heavily moderated as of late and I don't want to see anyone bringing down the quality of the posts in this thread.

Like most people, when I first heard of Vengeur Masque I scoffed at the idea.  It appears to be trying to accomplish different things completely un-aided by the other.  In fact, the decklist looked to be terrible.  Then I goofed off with it, and found it to be surprisingly adaptive, powerful, and resiliant.  Though I spent a lot of time messing around with Tainted Mask way back when, and a little time doing the same with Full English Breakfast thanks to iLL_DaWg doing the same, I came to realize Vengeur was much stronger than either of these decks because it was very difficult to hate out.

When Long and Rector were having their days in the sun, Survival based Mask was in trouble.  Its speed sacrificed for resiliancy, it couldn't keep up with the fast combo decks in Vintage Magic.  With the demise of Rector Trix, Rector Tendrils, and Long.dec, we are left with a much slower metagame, in which these mask variants are quite a speedy clock on their own.  An explosive early start fueled by Birds of Paradise in to a second turn Dreadnought or Volrath's Shapeshifter is clearly a good way to begin your game, and the ability to have these things removed and still have a very solid threat base is what I believe makes this archetype stand head and shoulders above traditional black tutor-based Mask builds.

Some examples of Survival based Mask

Ninja Mask, originally by Bryce Reynolds, redux by Ben Kowal
4x Survival of the Fittest
4x Volrath's Shapeshifter
4x Illusionary Mask

4x Phyrexian Dreadnought
1x Phage the Untouchable
1x Squee, Goblin Nabob
1x Gigapede
1x Psychatog

3x Birds of Paradise
3x Quirion Ranger
1x Black Lotus
1x Mox Emerald
1x Mox Jet
1x Mox Sapphire

4x Brainstorm
4x Force of Will
4x Duress
1x Ancestral Recall
1x Time Walk

4x Bayou
4x Tropical Island
2x Forest
4x Wooded Foothills
2x Windswept Heath

Vengeur Masque with White, by Carl Devos
1x Devout Witness
1x Enlightened Tutor
2x Swords to Plowshares

4x Birds of Paradise
2x Quirion Ranger
4x Survival of the Fittest
1x Sylvan Library

1x Squee, Goblin Nabob
1x Phage the Untouchable

1x Ancestral Recall
3x Brainstorm
4x Force of Will
1x Time Walk
1x Tradewind Rider
1x Voidmage Apprentice
3x Volrath's Shapeshifter

2x Meddling Mage

1x Black Lotus
1x Mox Sapphire
1x Mox Emerald
1x Mox Pearl
4x Illusionary Mask
4x Phyrexian Dreadnought

2x Forest
4x Savannah
4x Tropical Island
2x Windswept Heath
3x Wooded Foothills

Clearly, a different pair of philosophies accompanies these decks.  While Vengeur Masque relies on utility and resiliancy to control the game state until its threats can take the win, Ninja Mask relies on the theory that if your opponent is dead there are no threats to control.  While there is no proof one of these theories is better than the other, it is true one must take them in to account when discussing the deck.

Card Selections of Survival Based Mask

The Bombs
At first glance it appears these decks would be terrible at duking it out with control, since they clearly have very little disruption and a mere four counters to force their bombs through.  In reality, a careful Mask player has access to enough bombs to breach the counter wall just in to resolve the key card to break the game in half.
4x Illusionary Mask
4x Survival of the Fittest
4x(3x) Volrath's Shapeshifter
These are clearly the heart of the deck.  A control player can not allow Illusionary Mask to hit the table, since any matter of nasty horrible things could come under it and sneak right below a counter wall.  Likewise, a control player can not allow Survival of the Fittest to resolve, since it quickly turns itself in to a broken engine capable of allowing the Mask player access to a bomb every turn, and often two or three at a time.  Volrath's Shapeshifter doesn't appear to be as harmful, but in fact might as well be considered Illusionary Masks #5-8.  They turn Dreadnoughts in hand in to live cards, and can outright kill an opponent with the assistance of Phage.

Creature Utility (And Dreadnoughts)
As good a strategy as picking up something heavy and smashing your opponent repeatedly in the face is, sometimes a different strategy is necessary to win a drawn out or dicey game.  The slots for these types of options however must be kept either low in number or not necessarily bad on their own.
4x Phyrexian Dreadnought
1x Phage the Untouchable
1x Squee, Goblin Nabob
1x(0x) Gigapede
1x(0x) Psychatog
0x(2x) Meddling Mage
0x(1x) Devout Witness
0x(1x) Tradewind Rider
0x(1x) Voidmage Apprentice
The first three of these options are present in both lists, despite differing philosophy.  Regardless of control or aggro, you want to be able to establish an engine, as well as put a threat on the board that must be answered.
-Gigapede is a helpful utility creature for many reasons.  The most common reason is that it can protect your Volrath's Shapeshifter from Swords to Plowshares/other removal as well as pretend it's Squee #2.  Some less common but still very possible (and in fact a fairly decent strategy) events are hardcasting Gigapede to mess with blue based control (acting as a must counter every turn that's very very difficult to get rid of, that just so happens to beat hard) as well as luring an opponent to use a Tormod's Crypt before Squee is established.
-Psychatog is likewise a good assistant.  Though he makes a great auxillary beatdown creature, his primary purpose is to soak up removal and stack your graveyard to make Volrath's Shapeshifter better.  If you're running black, there is almost no reason not to run a Psychatog for these things.
-Meddling Mage is clearly very powerful in a build running white, as it can stop all mannerisms of things very early and reliably.  The mana cost is almost trivial, as Survival based Mask can find mana sources of any color very early and reliably.  Add that to the fact he's a fairly decent beatstick, and you have a solid creature option.
-Devout Witness is another of those token Vengeur control cards, and something I don't find to be completely necessary.  Carl Devos' accomplishments speak for themselves however, so clearly Witness must have some merit.  Though I was unable to give Devout Witness much of a fair chance, I would imagine it's helpful for removing annoying things like Null Rod or Isochron Scepter.
-Voidmage Apprentice is a trademark of Carl Devos, being a survivalable counterspell as well as very powerful under a Mask.  As strong as these abilities are, he's not a very efficient beatstick, nor is he very helpful without a Mask in play already.
-Tradewind Rider is interesting, to say the least.  An additional flying creature to make a Phage kill simpler, he's also a great maindeck answer to anything that can be put on the table.  Very befitting of the Vengeur strategy, however a poor choice for one attempting to follow the path of the ninja.  This all comes back to a statement I made on the opening of this article:  Survival based Mask is extremely difficult to hate.  Things like Null Rod and Swords to Plowshares imprinted on Isochron Scepter are great, but not necessarily going to stop the well oiled machine these decks are capable of being.

Mana Acceleration
A line the Paragons' Rakso is known to say quite often, "This is Type One.  Broken things happen."  These are often true because of stupidly early explosive starts fueled by our moxen and Black Lotus, among other restricted cards.  Some restricted mana accelerants are present in Vengeur/Ninja as well, amongst unrestricted cards such as Birds of Paradise.
3x(4x) Birds of Paradise
3x(2x) Quirion Ranger
3x On Color Moxen
1x Black Lotus
The obvious options here are the on color moxen and Black Lotus.  When Vengeur first appeared on the scene, people were quick to assume that the off color moxen would be a natural fit in the deck.  Running cards like Tradewind Rider, that may be the case.  However, in a tighter more aggressive deck, the early acceleration they provide isn't enough to pay the multiple colored costs of cards in the deck.  I'm assuming Carl Devos isn't running off color moxen for the same reason I'm not.  Sol Ring is caught in the same limbo of off color moxen.  Yes, it allows a first turn Illusionary Mask with no other acceleration, but without a Mask it has nearly no useful applications.
The options open to debate on this topic however are the unrestricted ones.  The clear as day difference between Mr. Devos' build and my own (as well as Bryce's, TMD's kl0wn) is that I'm running a third shifter over the fourth birds.  While four Birds of Paradise may appear to be a standard fit in the deck, I've come to realize that though they're amazing accelerators, the deck simply doesn't need a full complement.  Rangers on the other hand are capable of beating down, pseudo-accelerating, and saving my lands from Wasteland hits.  Likewise, they keep my graveyard tidy if I'm trying to win with a Shifter and there are Wastelands on the board.  These are all great, and those are just the cost of her ability.

Non-Creature Spells
No matter how good Survival of the Fittest is with a high creature count, it's just necessary to run a couple things that don't have a power and toughness in the corner.  Disruption, control elements, draw power, digging, and tutorage all could have a place, depending on the build and the philosophy behind it.
4x(3x) Brainstorm
4x Force of Will
4x(0x) Duress
1x Ancestral Recall
1x Time Walk
0x(1x) Enlightened Tutor
0x(2x) Swords to Plowshares
0x(1x) Sylvan Library
One of the statements I've made a lot playing my build is that you must "trust the mize."  Survival based Mask builds have a strong tendency to give you cards that completely change what you thought you were going to do.  Rather than catch you off guard and ruin your opening game plan, running Brainstorm allows you to see what you'll be seeing for a few turns, to better strengthen your board position for the following turns.  Brainstorm is a good card and almost always a good call in any deck running blue, but in these decks, it's absolutely essential.  I think of it like a combo piece.  Brainstorm + 1 good card in hand = combo.  We can see from Carl's list that he felt a Sylvan Library would be better than his 4th Brainstorm, and perhaps he was right.  I have tested this and found it to not work quite like that for me, since this deck so eagerly wishes to drop something else after ramping to two mana.  Perhaps Carl's strategy works better with it since he's attempting to control the game state, and perhaps he only runs one since he also runs Enlightened Tutor, which I'll get to in a different section of this article.
Though the power is a no brainer, the disruptive base of the deck is heavily based on not just the colored mana your lands tap for but also the color of cards in your deck.  With so many artifacts and green spells, keeping a blue count up to make the unanimous 4x Force of Will function all the time becomes a more important issue than in most other decks toting the counter.  When it comes to color splash, once again we represent different theories and methods of attack.  Carl's options clearly reflect his control aspects, trying to keep threats on the board from killing him.  My choices in Duress clearly show that I want to force my spells down now, so as to start putting down the very threats Carl wants to be removing with Swords to Plowshares.

The Simplicity of the Manabase
Any deck needs a solid manabase.  Survival based Mask has the pleasure of having a delightfully simple to configure manabase.
4x Tropical Island
4x(0x) Bayou
0x(4x) Savannah
4x(3x) Wooded Foothills
2x Windswept Heath
2x Forest
Simplicity at its best.  Pick a splash color, run four of those duals, four Tropical Islands, some basic land, and a bunch of fetches.  You'll notice I'm running one more land than Carl.  This reflects accomodating for the extremely common sight of multiple wastelands in the northeastern United States, as well as more mana intensive utility goons.

Color Splashes
Splashing a tertiary color is not essential, however it is often beneficial.  Here are the reasons for some of the splashes you'll see.

Withered Wretch, Duress, Coffin Purge, Cabal Therapy, Mesmeric Fiend, Psychatog, and the ability to hardcast Phage

Swords to Plowshares, Meddling Mage, Enlightened Tutor, Devout Witness, Sacred Ground, Seal of Cleansing

Anger, Flowstone Hellion

Now that all of the readers of this have a pretty good understanding of why Vengeur and Ninja look the way they do, we can begin to form educated decisions on sideboarding options and the general way to go about overpowering the powerful decks this environment has to offer.  I clearly can offer more from the Ninja viewpoint than the Vengeur viewpoint, so please excuse the biased reflections of my matchup analyses.

Keeper can put up an exceptionally good fight like it's famous for, but what it can do that will really shut down your game plan is to hardcast Decree.  I know it sounds crazy, but in playtesting, that's what ends the game.  Cycling decree is too easy to work around with some Volrath's Shapeshifter manipulation, but working around flying, high power and toughness chumps is much more difficult.  This strategy is what originally leaned me to running a Plaguebearer in my sideboard, which does not match my philosophy but was simply a necessary tool, much like Force of Will.  Gigapede and Meddling Mage are great against Keeper, not to stop the many counters you need to break through, but to stop their Swords to Plowshares from removing your goons.  Meddling Mage will obviously be nixed by Fire/Ice, and Gigapede by Coffin Purge/Ebony Charm, however like any matchup throwing enough speedbumps at your enemy will allow you the time to play your game the way you want to play it.

Your absolute worst matchup.  Dragon can go off before even the aggressive strategy behind Ninja can put many threats on the board, and though it's easy to hate, it's difficult to hate effectively.  Ground Seal is most likely your best option to stop Dragon, since it shuts off Verdant Force as well as their coffin purges for your Phage, and it cantrips.  Some other options like Root Maze, Stifle, Coffin Purge, and Withered Wretch exist, however they aren't as smooth and low maintenance as Ground Seal.  Ground Seal combined with other hate or a faster hand should be able to sneak past Dragon, but rest assured this is no easy matchup, and you'll be lucky to leave with a winning record against it.

Workshop Prison/Slavery
Another matchup where Ground Seal is insanely good, these aren't very difficult for you.  With a high permanent count and threats that make Karn look like a pansy, you should be able to run these guys over pretty quick.  If you're new to the deck, be sure you keep your Dreadnoughts away from the graveyard at all costs if Ground Seal is not in play.  Workshop players usually know that if you weld a Dreadnought in for something, you must try to reach the 12 power limit.  Clearly this is bad news, as it will most often be a one sided Wrath of God, targeting you.

Much more frightening than other Workshop decks, TnT can not only wreak havoc with your Dreadnoughts, but put them in the yard by itself through Uktabi Orangutan as well as find its answers as efficiently as you.  Combine that with the common new sight of Duplicant in the maindeck, and you have a challenging matchup.  Post board, you can bring in things like Ground Seal and Gilded Drake to shut off their better answers, but most important to these games is to keep Welder from hitting play.  The annoyance he poses will no doubt make you tear your hair out in frustration.

Madness post Restriction
Madness pre-restriction was annoying, since it could push out fat as fast as you could, and it had a much easier to establish engine.  Post restriction however it loses a lot of speed for more resiliancy, and you should be able to overpower it early, effectively swapping roles and slowing the game a turn.  Be wary though, as many of the older builds packed Gilded Drake and as you would expect he's pretty good against you.

I will refrain from comment, since I've never even seen someone play this deck, let alone playtest against it.

As the unregs in a thread I guided noticed, U/R landstill is a tremendous annoyance for us.  Fire/Ice is great for killing mana dudes, and they have an obscene amount of mana denial capable of stopping us from dropping even two cost bombs.  The strategy here is to establish a decent manabase as early as possible, and not throw bombs at the counter wall until you can throw them every turn reliably.  The manlands will put you on a clock, but you're capable of killing them much faster than they think.  Other color splashes don't warrant nearly as much concern, since the real pain is Fire/Ice taking out your mana production and protection.

Blood Moon Control
Though these matches tend to play like textbook bombs through walls Mask vs Control, I felt I should add that Blood Moon and Back to Basics may look good against this archetype however they are not.  Blood Moon can be easily stopped by fetching a basic forest or using Birds of Paradise to their fullest, as well as dropping threats under the mask for colorless mana.  Back to Basics is easily thwarted by Quirion Ranger.

Let it be known that before I was comfortable with the black splash, I did in fact lose to fish.  This shouldn't actually happen.  Strong as Fish is, it's not capable of overpowering you without a lot of potent hate in the sideboard and a little luck.  Think of it as a control deck with only four counters, and you'll see why.  Null Rod isn't very efficient at hating you, since it only shuts off half your "masks" and doesn't come down very early since they keep their mox count at one or nothing.


Several options present themselves to make our difficult matchups more fair, and obviously it's very important to know which ones are best for a given metagame.

Given a high number of fetchlands and Worldgorger Dragons running around, Stifle is a good candidate for the sideboard.  It also pitches to Force of Will.  Unfortunately, despite its utility and fame for never being dead, it doesn't do enough in the matchups you want it for to win the game for you.

Ground Seal
An absolute must in any environment with welders and dragons.  This is the only card I've found to be a huge bomb in the dragon matchup, as well as shutting off welders and turning otherwise bad matchups in to fairly good ones.  The fact it replaces itself is just gravy, and extremely underappreciated given the importance of "trusting the mise" in this archetype.

Gilded Drake
A survivalable answer to stupid annoying creatures like Psychatog and opposing Dreadnoughts.  He's also a decent beater under a mask if nothing else, and pitches to Force of Will.  You can also play goofy shifter tricks with him if you need to.  I highly recommend him.

I originally included Plaguebearer in my list to answer Angel tokens as I already noted, but since then I've found myself using him for many other things, such as overpowering Green Power Ranger, or digesting man-lands.  His low cost and ability to (lightly) beat face are also huge boons.

Coffin Purge
More hate for Dragon, this one has a lot of negative synergy going on with Ground Seal, but they are not necessarily mutually exclusive.  As we know, Dragon can Pernicious Deed Ground Seal out of existance, but with Coffin Purge we can sometimes buy a turn to drop a second Ground Seal, or also, remove Squees before Ground Seal even hits to stall the draw engine and allow you to win before they can find a Deed or the mana to use it.

You can't survival for it, it doesn't beat down hard.  It is, however, a surprise that needs to be prepared for.  Dragon intending to go off needs to check for it first, and they also much check first if they intend to leave an undefended deed in play until they get an untap step to use it.  

Nantuko Vigilante/Uktabi Orangutan/Elvish Lyrist
While good survival targets that beat down, using these as your enchantment and artifact removal increases your reliance on Survival, unless they come in in large doses.  Likewise, Vigilante is too slow to do anything against Dragon, and Lyrist isn't much good for anything else.  I tend to stay away from these guys.

Xantid Swarm
Xantid Swarm is simply an amazing underrated card, that allows the Mask player to do stupid things against control completely unchallenged.  If nothing else, Xantid Swarm is a Duress, Hymn to Tourach, or flagbearer for removal against decks like Keeper and UrPhid.  Running more than one is a good thing, since you want them early, don't want to rely on Survival to get them, and seeing another is never a bad thing.

Chalice of the Void
I have never and likely will never advocate Chalice of the Void as a sideboard option, but if your metagame is chock full of storm combo, Chalice would not be a poor selection.  The problem I have with it is thus.
-You don't ramp as high as Workshop or as fast, thus limiting its use
-You drop for one, and shut off your mana dudes, disruption, and digging spells.
-You drop for two, and shut off your Masks, your Survivals, and Naturalize
-You drop for three, and shut off Volrath's Shapeshifter
All of those kinda suck, and that's why I don't condone the use of it unless you plan to drop it for zero every time.

Arcane Laboratory
With Long being as popular as it was, Arcane Lab was probably a pretty good call.  We all know I was never that impressed with Long, but now that it's dying anyway, Arcane Lab may or may not earn its keep against the current metagame.  If there's a lot of TPS in your metagame, Arcane Lab would probably be a decent call.

With all that being said, here's the sideboard I'm currently using.

4x Ground Seal
2x Stifle
2x Gilded Drake
1x Plaguebearer
4x Xantid Swarm
2x Uktabi Orangutan

Now, I've highlighted most of the aspects of Mask construction and how it functions on the field.  I'd like to begin the discussion with feedback from some of TMD's great members, most notably Carl Devos, since it was his original Vengeur Masque quite long ago that made the variants today possible, Bryce Reynolds, since he originally concocted the Ninja Mask philosophy and style, and Steve Menendian, since he's the largest advocate of Spoils Mask and his thoughts on why he likes it more than these survival based builds would likely generate a lot of thought and learning through discussion.
« Reply #1 on: December 15, 2003, 01:47:59 pm »

I have to go to work in a few so I can't really go into much detailed discussion, but I'd like to start off by addressing some of the problems that the archetype has in the environment.

Mana denial: Fire/Ice is bad since it can take out your one-toughness guys while also removing unprotected Shapeshifters. Wasteland is bad because the deck runs on very few mana-producing lands (10 to be exact). Mox Monkey isn't really an issue since you aren't relying on zero-casting cost artifacts as a part of your mana base. I wish NEUS people would take a lesson from the Germans and stop running 5 strips in their decks.

Speed: This deck can win on the first turn very rarely. It goldfishes on turn 4 if all the pieces fall into place (which is what usually happens with the high concentration of synergetic combo components). That's slow for the current format.

Hate: Nobody hates Ninja Mask. Everybody hates Dragon. Dragon hate is almost as good against Ninja Mask as it is against Dragon. This is a dilemma.

Many of these issues can be avoided by simply outplaying your opponent (which is what I absolutely love about this archetype: it relies on playskill, mind tricks and knowing your deck over broken opening hands) but you can just get hosed sometimes, and it happens more often than I'd like to admit.
« Reply #2 on: December 16, 2003, 01:54:43 am »

Quote Many of these issues can be avoided by simply outplaying your opponent (which is what I absolutely love about this archetype: it relies on playskill, mind tricks and knowing your deck over broken opening hands) but you can just get hosed sometimes, and it happens more often than I'd like to admit.

The first half of this statement is what makes me want to ignore the rest of what you said, Bryce.  That's what makes the archetype so great --  You can outplay your opponent, and work around any type of hate/hoser thrown at you.

I'm more than a little disappointed in the lack of interest of such a topic, but I'm hoping that by publicizing my list and the function of the deck, that more people will give it a shot and feel the desire to contribute to this discussion.
« Reply #3 on: December 16, 2003, 04:18:59 am »

My comments:

When splashing white I would not play Sacred Ground SB. It is there against Workshop decks. Workshop decks will try to get Chalice out against you at X=2. Having 2cc answers is therefore not good. Good old Energy Flux would be better.

The red splash: Iīve tried it and seen other people try it. Flowstone Hellion is a joke in Survival-Mask, but Anger is great and donīt forget Gorilla Shaman. Unfortunately you have little defense against combo, so I canīt recommend splashing red.

When you are splashing Black you have an additional card vs Dragon: Snuff Out. Also decent to take out opposing Welders, Meddling Mages, Dreadnoughts, Metalworkers without loss of tempo. Donīt you hate guessing to leave U open for Stifle or to lay down your Birds?

Sylvan Library doesnīt convince me. It is another 2cc permanent, but I prefer drop Mask, Survival or even a Mage.

Ground Seal I find unimpressive, especially playing 4 of them. When sideboarding Survival Mask I always have trouble taking out cards. Therefore I play 1-2 cards of each in the SB. I would recommend a couple of Seal of Removal. They come out earlier which is more important than the cantrip effect. You can play 1-2 cards of each and still totally hate Dragon. Stifle, Seal of Removal, BEB, Crypt and Ground Seal. Against Dragon you can kick them all in, but theyīre also playable in other matchups where your Ground Seal is dead meat.
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