In 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. This deck doesn't have that problem.
The Illusion cards, however, were all from Magic 2012. 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. 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 in the Magic 2011 Core Set. But, that card would gain value for a different reason in the future and was actually useful in many other ways not long after its exit from Standard.
But, 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 who wanted to play the deck. Most players, after all, weren't concerned with hanging onto what would be the few money cards in the deck long-term: one Verdant Catacombs, the 2 Bloodghast, Kalastria Highborn, and the 4 Dismember.
One thing that Wizards was doing with these event decks was providing one deck that can pretty much win out of the box with minor changes. This was the case with the Stoneforge Mystic deck, which turned out to be a major marketing mistake upon the aforementioned broken card’s banning in Standard. The other Event Deck for that set could usually be had for much cheaper, though they have identical MSRP’s according to Wizards).
The second deck would 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 crap-ton of the “other deck”. Most of the time they’d sell them off for super cheap: $10 or so. 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, Aether Adept is a Cube favorite that also sees play in EDH. But, having played the deck, 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.
- 4 Phantasmal Bear – The Bear is just a good card, and the perfect Turn 1 play for this deck. This 2/2 one-drop saw play in some other decks, too. Quick, aggressive one-drops can win you many games. 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? Phantasmal Dragon is pretty cool, especially it becomes a 6/6 HEXPROOF flyer. It was pretty unbeatable.
- 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. You do have that one Glacial Fortress in the deck 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 to make him easier to cast.
- 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 – The Precursor Golem is a very interesting inclusion, and it isn’t too hard to see how this works. First of all, he creates two 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 of Seachrome Coast to make it consistent. Still, the Golem provides you with a couple of directions to go with this deck. 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.
- 1 Steel Hellkite – This card was fun in this deck. Steel Hellkite 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 Grand Architect decks before. At 6 mana, he 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 was often overlooked by players back then 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. This is actually better than Ratchet Bomb, which hits you as well, whereas this is very one-sided. While this sort of removal is a bit niche in nature, it can win you games out of nowhere. And it did for me... once in Standard and many times in Commander.
- 2 Grand Architect – This guy’s a lot of fun. Great Architect actually saw a lot of play at the time, as he would later in some Modern artifact brews. 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 not a big money card at a few bucks each, but he’s a solid play in this build. I'd probably play at least three, if not four.
- 1 Lord of the Unreal – Granted, you'll want a second copy of this guy before playing this deck competitively. You'd probably want to run the full four copies, though. Back then, he wasn’t expensive at all, perhaps $2-3 USD each. But for most of his life, he's been under $1 each. This guy’s extremely good. He's the Illusion Lord that makes this deck work. Unfortunately, he never saw much rise in value as Illusions never became a popular archetype. He's the key card in the tribe, though, along with another generically very good Clone-type card...
- 1 Phantasmal Image – Without a doubt, the Phantasmal Image is the “money” card of this deck. He was worth about $5 USD on the secondary market back in 2011, but has consistently been closer to $10 over the years. Phantasmal Image is the cheapest Clone-type card to cast 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. He's generically powerful, even with his drawback. But without a doubt, he was designed for the Illusion deck, and it's clear how powerful he becomes when he's Hexproof, too.
It’s too bad I quit Standard not long after buying this deck, due to a bevy of reasons. 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 Mana Leak – This classic two-mana permission spell is 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 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
- 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. However, Preordain is still a handy common playset to have in other formats. Setting up your draws is very important, so either Preordain or Ponder works in this slot. Ssome competitive Standard players at the time liked to play 3 Preordain and 1 Ponder, in fact. Despite being only a common, it's actually gained value over the years.
- 19 Islands – Your standard basic lands.
- 4 Glimmerpost - Personally, I’m not a huge fan of Glimmerpost in this deck. It does make some sense, though, 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. Dual lands are always good cards to have, especially for EDH. It is a bit peculiar to place in a mono-colored Blue deck, even if there are Porcelain Legionnaires in it. however, but you could appreciate throwing in a token rare land that’s very playable.
If you add up the value of the 60-card deck, you would’ve easily regained the $15 USD in value that this deck sold for at the time – which was well below MSRP, of course,.
Now on to the sideboard, which doesn’t have money cards, but very playable cards that should indeed be in your sideboard.
- 2 Flashfreeze – This was a no-brainer side board card for blue decks in Standard since its inception in Coldsnap. In fact, for a common, it was 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 creatures, and they don’t untap during their next untap step? That spells the end of the game 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 at the time, it was 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 – This was a card that I was personally 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 favor of a couple of Mana Leaks against decks with considerable 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. It's often best played late in the game, so it’s worth holding for that late game planeswalker or Genesis Wave drop that you would have a hard time dealing with back then. Great card.
- 4 Neurok Commando – An interesting uncommon from Mirrodin Besieged, the Commandos 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, especially in an Event deck.
- 1 Stoic Rebuttal – Stoic Rebuttal is 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. This was a card that saw a lot of play back in those days.
Clearly, this was a very good, playable deck, with some inexpensive additions. All you would need are a couple more Lord of the Unreal and Phantasmal Image and this deck can pick you up a lot of cheap wins. Wizards actually offered some good tips for improving the deck on their announcement page.
I especially like the Wurmcoil Engine idea, as it works with Steel Hellkite also being in the deck. The Engine also gives you a second target for Treasure Mage. Caged Sun works well if you stay mono-blue, as well - and is a third Treasure Mage target. Their suggestion of a single copy of Frost Titan wasn’t too shabby, either. I actually used all three of these cards in the deck when I played it at a small Game Day event and came in second.
It wasn’t the worst deck for its MSRP of $25 USD, but you could guarantee to be able to purchase it for between $15-20. Even in 2018, you can find them sealed for $25-30. For quite awhile, you were better off just buying the separate cards yourself. But after all these years, the playset of Preordain is north of $15 based almost entirely on Pauper play, the Image is north of $8, Glacial Fortress is $4, and the Grand Architects are $3 a piece. So, the deck is actually still worth buying as sealed product!
With a core of 4 Bears, 2-3 Dragons, 4 Images and 4 Lords, plus the Grand Architects, the Illusion deck can be a nice little casual Modern deck. The deck also gained Jace's Phantasm in Magic 2013, which is a 1/1 flyer that becomes a 4/4 if there are 10 or more cards in an opponent's graveyard. Even though it's an Illusion, it doesn't have the drawback of having to be sacrificed if it's targeted. I'd love to build an Illusions deck someday, even if it's not incredibly competitive.
At the time, if you were 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! There was potential here. If only Wizards had made this deck better out of the box, Illusions would’ve probably been a lot more popular.