At the time, 2011, the Illusionary Might deck actually was probably the better buy for newer players, believe it or not. The reason for this lies in the editions of the cards. The Vampire deck had a great many cards from Zendikar, Worldwake, and Rise of the Eldrazi. That Fall’s Standard rotation meant the end of those cards being playable in Standard.
The Illusionary cards, however, were all from Magic 2012, and most of the other cards in the deck were in the Scars of Mirrodin block, which followed Zendikar block and was staying in Standard for another full year plus. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a card that was cycling out with the next Standard rotation. The only notable one was the playset of Preordain, which was only ever printed in Magic 2011 Core Set and the Venser vs Koth Duel Decks.
Basically if you were looking to win in Standard at that moment, the Vampire deck gave you the better shell to start from. Long-term, however, this deck actually was the better choice for players not concerned with hanging onto what would be the few money cards in the deck long-term – the one Verdant Catacombs and the 2 Bloodghast.
One thing that Wizards began to do with these event decks was providing one deck that can pretty much win out of the box with minor changes – like the Stoneforge Mystic deck, which turned out to be a major marketing mistake upon the aforementioned broken card’s banning in Standard. The other deck could usually be had for much cheaper (though they have identical MSRP’s according to Wizards) and contain cards that would not be rotating out of Standard for at least a year. That was obviously quite on purpose, but it would end up back-firing sales-wise and hobby stores ended up with a craptonne of the “other deck”. Most of the time they’d sell them off for super cheap: $10 or so, and this deck actually has a couple cards that make that price tag actually reasonable, including Phantasmal Image.
While the New Phyrexia Infect deck was undoubtedly under-powered (and Stoneforge Mystic of course regained some value for its play in Legacy and EDH) the Illusion deck is actually not. Granted, it could use a couple more copies of the key cards. But when you break the deck down, especially by the value at the time, if you were to buy the deck from Star City Games, who had it at $14.95 vs the $34.95 of the Vampire deck, you were going to make all of your money back just in single card value.
Let’s look at the deck list:
- 4 Aether Adept – Not a bad card at all in Limited, and it’s a Cube favorite that also sees play in EDH. But running four copies in this deck seems a bit extreme. There’s certainly nothing wrong with having an Unsummon effect on a 2/2 stick, but there were more efficient cards available, such as Vapor Snag.
- 19 Islands – Your standard basic lands.
- 4 Glimmerpost – Personally, I’m not a huge fan of this card in this deck, but it makes sense with the 2 play sets of creatures with Phyrexian mana costs. It’s not a bad play, really, but many would probably swap these with more Islands, or Glacial Fortresses, depending on what other changes are made to the build.
- 1 Glacial Fortress – This is a very good inclusion. It may not be a money card, but it’s still a card that stayed in Standard for awhile, and dual lands are always good cards to have, especially for EDH. It is a bit peculiar to place in a mono-colored Blue deck, however, but you could appreciate throwing in a token rare land that’s very playable.
- 2 Grand Architect – This guy’s a lot of fun, and actually saw a lot of play at the time. Making your blue creatures gain +1/+1 is more than welcome, and he becomes a second Lord for your Illusions. He also combos well with your artifacts, also making them blue for a turn. He’s no money card, but he’s a solid play in this build.
- 1 Lord of the Unreal – Granted, you will want a second copy of this guy before playing this deck competitively, and wasn’t expensive at all, perhaps $2-3 USD. This guy’s extremely good, the Illusion Lord that makes this deck work. Unfortunately, he never saw much rise in value as Illusions never became a popular archetype. Although the next card has continued to be extremely good…
- 1 Phantasmal Image – Perhaps the “money” card of this deck (he was worth about $5 USD on the secondary market and is a bit more now as of this writing), Phantasmal Image is the cheapest (as far as mana cost is concerned) Clone-type card ever created. Granted, it has the downfall of being an Illusion, but this isn’t an issue with Lord of the Unreal on the board. This is a guy you’d want a couple more copies of to make this deck competitive. It’s too bad I quit Standard not long after buying this deck, due to a bevy of reasons, but I wish I’d made a deck with 4 Images and 4 Lords at the core, with the Grand Architects to complement them. I think Illusions could have actually done something, at least at FNM and Local Game Shop events.
- 4 Phantasmal Bear – This is just a good card, and the perfect Turn 1 play for this deck. Quick, aggressive one-drops can win you many games, and for these guys to become 3/3 Hexproof beat-sticks with Lord of the Unreal on the board is just silly.
- 3 Phantasmal Dragon – a 5/5 flyer for 4 mana? Pretty cool stuff, especially when they become 6/6 HEXPROOF flyers for 4 mana.
- 4 Porcelain Legionnaire – If you’re looking to be very aggressive with this deck, he’s not a bad play. He’s very playable for 2 colorless mana and 2 life (and you do have that one Glacial Fortress available to hard-cast him, as well). With the Glimmerposts, that loss of life won’t sting too much. But you may as well just run 4 Glacial Fortress.
- 4 Spined Thopter – A favorite in New Phyrexia limited, for sure, a 2/1 flyer for 3 mana (or 2 and 2 life) isn’t the best, but considering he’s easily a 3/2 with Grand Architect on the board is not too shabby. He’s already blue, so he’s easy to hard-cast and actually is well at home in this build. He’s a keeper.
- 1 Precursor Golem – A very interesting inclusion, and it isn’t too hard to see how this works. First of all, he creates 2 3/3 Golems besides himself. The trick is that anything that targets any of your Golems affects every single one of your Golems. Granted, with Grand Architect’s ability to change an artifact to blue, this is actually a plus for you, since all three of your 3/3 golems would become 4/4. He’s an interesting addition to this deck. You could perhaps build a deck that features Blade Splicers vs Porcelain Legionnaires, and do fairly well (but you’d need the 4 Glacial Fortress and perhaps a couple ofSeachrome Coast to make it consistent.) Still, the Golem provides you with a couple of directions to go with this deck, and running the one copy certainly isn’t too bad, as there’s some synergy especially with the Images being able to get serious value from copying him.
- 4 Mana Leak – A great inclusion in this deck. Granted, Mana Leak is a fairly inexpensive card, but it’s welcome to have a playset handed to you. This is going to be a fun card to slow your opponent down while you swarm the field with Illusions!.
- 3 Mind Control – This is a good card, and a very old favorite at that. Ordinarily, its casting cost is considered to be a little high to be very playable in Constructed, but with this deck, considering that you’re likely going to fill the board far more quickly than your opponent, a late-game Mind Control on an opponent’s boss creature could spell their doom. There’s also a fourth copy in the Sideboard, which we will get to.
- 4 Preordain – This is in fact the ONLY card from this deck that rotated out of Standard in October 2011. Granted, you did want to run it until then, and replace the play-set with Ponders come rotation time. However, Preordain is still a handy common playset to have in other formats, and being only a common, there’s really only minor loss of monetary value here. Setting up your draws is very important, so either Preordain or Ponder works in this slot (some competitive Standard players at the time liked to play 3 Preordain and 1 Ponder, in fact.)
Now on to the sideboard, which doesn’t have money cards, but very playable cards that should indeed be in your sideboard.
- 1 Steel Hellkite – I can see this card being fun in this deck. He combos with all of the other artifact support in this deck, and he also has some very interesting abilities of his own. He’s been played in the Grand Architect decks before, and at 6 mana could be tutored by Treasure Mage (along with his stalwart buddies Wurmcoil Engine and Blightsteel Colossus.) His pseudo-firebreathing ability isn’t too shabby, and he’s a flyer. The most interesting ability that I believe is often overlooked is his Ratchet Bomb like effect. By paying X mana, you can destroy all non-land permanents of a player that was dealt combat damage this turn (which becomes very one-sided considering that Ratchet Bomb hits you as well). While this sort of removal is a bit niche in nature, it can win you games out of nowhere.
- 2 Flashfreeze – This has been a no-brainer side board card for blue decks since its inception in Coldsnap. In fact, for a common, it tends to be generally difficult to acquire, as popular as Blue decks are. It just makes red and green spells very sad.
- 2 Frost Breath – One of the best common control cards ever printed. Tap down two opponent’s creatuers, and they don’t untap during their next untap step? That spells the end if you have lethal damage on the board and it becomes a numbers game between open blockers and attackers.
- 3 Master Thief – While I’m not the biggest fan of Master Thief, it is essentially Mind Control for artifacts. Considering the great many artifacts played in Standard currently, it’s a decent sideboard play.
- 1 Mind Control – The fourth copy of Mind Control that you will very rarely, if ever, actually sideboard in.
- 2 Negate – A card that I personally am very glad to see back in Standard. Originally printed in Morningtide as an answer to Lorwyn’s brand new planeswalkers, it’s strictly better than Spell Pierce in that it’s still extremely playable late game. You would sideboard into these in favour of a couple of Mana Leaks against decks with consdierable mana acceleration. I can’t say how many times I will draw a Mana Leak or Spell Pierce and have it be an absolutely dead draw by that point in the game. Negate solves some serious problems, and is often best played late in the game, so it’s worth holding for that late game planeswalker or Genesis Wave drop. Great card.
- 4 Neurok Commando – An interesting uncommon from Mirrodin Besieged, which are very good in matches versus control decks. With Shroud and cheap card draw, it’s a decent card. There are probably better sideboard options, but it’s not a bad inclusion.
- 1 Stoic Rebuttal – Essentially a Cancel that becomes Counterspell if you control 3 artifacts. A second copy of this versus the extra Mind Control is probably the way to go here.
It wasn’t the worst deck for its MSRP of $25 USD, but you could guarantee be able to purchase it for between $15-20. Nowadays, however, they sell closer to $20. But as there are only a couple cards in this deck that retail for more than $1 a piece (Precursor Golem, Lord of the Unreal, and Glacial Fortress) and one $5-7 card, Phantasmal Image, you’re better off just buying the separate cards yourself.
At the time, if you we re looking for a cheap deck that only needs minor tweaks to win, and you were playing on a budget, this is the deck for you! Nowadays, I’d avoid this deck altogether and just buy Phantasmal Images and Lord of the Unreals as singles.
But, oh there was potential here. If only Wizards had made this good out of the box…