Breaking Through – Dynamic Remodeling and Mannequin

So I guess this would be the traditional area for introductions, accomplishments, and other reasons to read this and future articles. That said, I don’t think any of you really care that much and there are plenty of resources to discern that information for those that do. Rather, I will just leave you with my name and move on to more entertaining and hopefully helpful topics. The name part is easy enough at least: Conley Woods; and moving on…

A few weeks ago at U.S. Nationals, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a deck that managed to put its only 3 pilots into the top 12. Since that point, I have received countless emails asking about the deck, changes I would make, and sideboarding strategies. And to each question, no matter how similar it was to the last, the answers have differed greatly. This is because as the metagame shifts, one’s mentality and thus deck, must also shift with it, or even ahead of it, or else suffer poor results. Some decks do not have the capability to make these shifts, as they are too linear or meant to attack a single tournament, and thus it is at this point where that deck stops its development. Other decks have more of a dynamic element to them though, allowing minor and even major tweaks to revitalize the deck in a more hostile format. Neither style of deck is more correct than the other, but it is in determining which type of deck you have where the skill is required.

Forcing a deck that cannot adapt to try and do just that will end in too many wasted hours and a losing record. Similarly however, giving up on a dynamic deck because one does not wish to put in the work to remodel it leads to an unnecessary search for a new deck and yet more wasted time. It is foolish to think that every Magic player has 24 hours a day to devote to Magic, which makes time management more important that we give it credit for.

Recently, this idea of dynamic vs non-dynamic decks has become more of a issue in both deck design and deck choice. Swans is a good example of this. In Barcelona, Swans was basically an unknown variable to most of the field. This made the deck an excellent choice for that tournament. Going forward, players realized that they did not want to lose to the stupid combo deck, and hating it out was fairly easy unlike other decks of the sort such as Dredge. Swans was such a linear deck with little room for adaptation that the deck fell out of favor pretty quickly once players sought to beat it. The deck only hung around in Standard due to a loyal following and the ebb and flow of hate that players tend to allow in their sideboards. In general however, most players would agree that Swans was good for a tournament, not for the format as a whole. 5-Color Control on the other hand, is a very dynamic deck, adapting the best cards for the metagame during each of its phases. Again, it is not that one of these types of decks is inherently better than the other, but that each should be approached differently.

So where does all of this lead us in respect to the Mannequin deck that was run at U.S. Nats? Here we have a dynamic deck, one that can shift with the metagame and thus, if predicted correctly, always be positioned favorably. The trap comes when a player picks up the latest version of the deck to do well, and runs it at his local PTQ 2 weeks later or whatever. The metagame has shifted and that player is playing last month’s tech. He’s rolling with 8-tracks in the world of the iPOD (I think I should get a free iPOD for writing that, but most likely will just receive some 8-tracks).

Players have to take the liberty to update and retool decks given what they think or predict the upcoming metgame to be. Even if they are wrong, they still learn more about the deck then if they had just copy-pasted the most recent winning list. But it is those times that are right that leave them with the biggest rewards. This is only the case for established decks, as new rogue decks are looking to catch the format by surprise almost by definition. So, let’s explore Mannequin and see where we should position ourselves for the upcoming week.

For reference, here is the list that I played at Nationals:


After the tournament, we had decided that a 25th land wouldn’t be a bad idea. It is not 100% needed, but helps none the less. Therefore, in all of the post-Nats lists I have suggested, the 25th land has been present. Other than that change however, there has been no universal change from week to week. Rather, in maintaining with the shifting metagame, we have capitalized on the dynamic nature of the deck and shifted it accordingly.

Directly after Nats I had suggested a build that removed the Kitchen Finks for maindeck Anathemancers and removed a Maelstrom Pulse for a 25th land. In addition, 1 Caldera Hellion was cut from the main for a Puppeteer Clique in anticipation of more mirror battles. 5-Color was the predominant deck coming out of U.S. Nats and therefore I wanted to be equipped properly. Maindeck Anathemancers would catch many people off guard and the loss of Finks only hurt the Kithkin matchup which was expected to be on the decline. The Faeries matchup remained about the same as both Finks and Anathemancer are quite good against them. Ultimately then, this was a move that acknowledge the decline of Kithkin and the simultaneous rise of 5-Color. These changes led to the following list:


About a week later, I felt comfortable giving up a few percentage points in the Faerie matchup after we could confirm that fewer people would play that deck. With 32 Great Sable Stags in the top 8 of Nationals, it was easy to dismiss Faeries as a legit deck, but anyone who has played Standard in the last 2 years knows better than to count out the little Black and Blue men too soon. I had decided that Cloudthreshers could easily move to the board at that time, and the 3rd could even be cut altogether. Acidic Slime, which had made its way into the sideboard previously, could now make a small maindeck inclusion as a 1-of for its ability to fight 5 color manabases and also help in the mirror. Caldera Hellion was becoming less and less important in the maindeck and was reduced down to a lone copy in the main. Basically, this list understood what the previous one was trying to accomplish, but also attempted to combat the small indent that Red decks were making on the metagame.

After those rough changes however, it became apparent that Red decks sporting Blightning and Anathemancer had reemerged as contenders now that Kithkin had been forced out of the format. In reality, the Mannequin deck was testing OK against Red decks, with numbers consistently better than 50-50 but that was with Kitchen Finks in the maindeck. Basically, drawing a single Finks and Mannequin was just too much for the Red decks to overcome. We had moved away from Finks now though, and had to reconsider this going forward.



We had buffed out Red matchup once again, but also weakened our Fae matchup as a result. Still, Acidic Slime and Puppeteer Clique were slow, and still not very effective against Red even once cast. If we are going to be running any slow cards, they must be a hammer to Red once actually cast. In addition, I was finding Puppeteer Clique to be getting weaker in the mirror when players suspected it, as a timely Mannequin could counter it with value. We needed a new card to break the mirror open with, so why not turn to what the enemy has been using.

That brings us to today… With Red taking a solid portion of the metagame, as well as a resurgence of Faeries thanks to various splash colors that deal with Stag, we have a completely new meta than the one that existed a mere month ago. 5-Color is still of consideration though and Kithkin has all but faded minus a few copies found in various European Nationals.

After addressing cards that are good in those specific matchups, we arrive at the following list:


OK, so the big change here is the addition of Cruel Ultimatum. Due to the fact that this deck has been out for awhile now, players have grown comfortable with the decklist and will not be expecting Cruel Ultimatum from the deck at all. Puppeteer Clique is fine in the mirror and against the 5CC lists playing Mulldrifters, but is overall a less effective maindeck card than Cruel Ultimatum.

Ultimatum is equally, if not more devastating in the mirror while also being a game sealer against the Red decks and similarly good against Kithkin, among other aggro decks. And as the many 5-Color mirrors have taught us, it is an excellent card against 5-Color… and well just about anyone if it resolves. Really the only time that Ultimatum feels like dead weight is against Faeries, but we have kept the Cloudthreshers and Great Sable Stags to improve that matchup postboard, and that is despite an already good maindeck matchup.

It is worth noting that this list is still significantly different from the 5-Color Bloodbraid lists that also happen to sport the 7-mana sorcery. A common mistake players tend to make is to generalize cards into archetypes. This is not only a mistake during deckbuilding, but can also cost players games that they otherwise would not have lost. Bloodbraid Elf plus Cruel Ultimatum does not equal 5-Color Blood and now players must adapt to that fact.

Acidic Slime out of the board may look a bit peculiar but it serves as an answer-all that deals with some of the problem cards for the deck. Whether you are nailing a Runed Halo, destroying one of 5-Color’s lands, or Deathtouching a Chameleon Colossus, he is a slow, but versatile answer. Obviously Mannequin only amplifies his power level. The rest of the sideboard is pretty self explanatory.

The only matchup that even worries me here is Time Sieve, but we do have some tools against it. Thought Hemorrhage and Slime are both good at slowing the deck down, but they themselves are pretty slow which can be pretty awkward. Fortunately, that deck is only a small portion of the metagame and many of the other decks are working on the hate for us.

Alright, well I figured I would keep this week’s article fairly light and just get a new list out there for all of those requesting it. I am looking forward to writing for ChannelFireball on a weekly basis and hopefully welcomed without too much trouble. While I have some topics in mind for the upcoming weeks, I am more than open to suggestions so feel free to post anything you’d like to read about in the comments. Catch you guys next week!

Conley Woods

53 thoughts on “Breaking Through – Dynamic Remodeling and Mannequin”

  1. Great article and glad to see you branching out. You’ve come so far from your school bus days.

  2. Very nice article. I look forward to reading articles. Everyone has been talking about “The Conley Woods Special” at my store. I really want to play it just need to try and find some of the lands

  3. I think your missing a few cards in your final build Conley. I’m going to assume it’s basics due to the fact that its pretty hard to land a consistant cruel with only 19 lands.

  4. Yea that last list should have 2 of each Basic, just like the other lists… Shoulda got edited in but no biggie, my mistake.

  5. Do you need to take into account the hate that those decks will be boarding in as well, or just go for the main deck?

  6. Possessive “your” also makes sense in that sentence. Don’t be a grammar ninja if “you’re” too weaksauce to read a sentence correctly.

  7. “Even if they are wrong, they still learn more about the deck then if they had just copy-pasted the most recent winning list.”

    How about this sentence? Can anyone spot the grammar/usage error?

  8. You’ve pointed out a general theme and theory, along with solid examples of small tweaks to the same deck as the weeks go passed, great to show people how bent from its original form a deck can get to fight a meta, and how an old decklist can be lightyears obselete after only a week or so of metagame shifts.

    Illustrates your point very clearly.

    Thanks! Great article.

  9. I thought it was a good article. You took a fairly advanced but relevant topic and gave good examples on how you use it and how to apply it to general deckbuilding. I think I could learn a lot if you continue to write here every week.

  10. i’m glad to see a new writer((s)Brad nelson also started today) for channelfireball, but i am worried that other writers are getting bumped out. is this true or will i still see all the usual writers still going aswell?

  11. Great article. Great advice for those running your deck, while enough general knowledge to be of use to anyone building a competitive deck. Your insights on the current meta are a big plus.

  12. Wow how perfect! i was wantin to build a list similiar to this but was having trouble deciding on what to cut…after testing this list it seems like we have a winner!!! Excellent article and welcome to CF :)…always happy to see new faces that know a thing or two bout the game

  13. Conley,

    It’s good to see you on Channel Fireball. It was even better getting back to back articles from you today and yesterday.

  14. Great article, I liked the way how you demonstrated a development of a deck without lost the core sense of it.
    I’m waiting for new ones

  15. Wow this is a smoking hot site now–not only does it have the best american stable of young, progressive mages, it is totally free…I’m more concerned how long that will last personally, because I’d rather not choose who is getting my magic tech dollars.

  16. You should definitely try to break the Tidehollow Strix + Finest Hour combo you had goin on in that first draft at Nats. =P
    Nice article, looking forward to you writing more Conley.


  17. Great article Conley, but you didn’t listen to me and make worse against 5Color : ) I am sure in two weeks I will be facing a ton of this at the PTQ! Sweet deck.

  18. @Dan: As far as I know, none of the writers are getting the bump. We’re just going to be running 2-3 articles a day instead of the previous 1-2. There’s some shuffling around as to when people will be running, but I haven’t heard of anyone going moved out entirely.

  19. i agree with teh slime here the killiing a enchant via an honor the pure kithkin variant is nice also kills bitter blossm. and very least a killing a land slows 5CC way down

  20. I love this deck! Its great to see you writing here, you and brad are great additions to the lineup here!

  21. You don’t hardly ever need to kill BBlossom with this deck… just wipe their tokens from time to time. Especially after you have threshers.

    I came up with a fairly similar list to switch stuff up after the PTQ I played (and got beat by a few red / black decks), but it’s still nice to see I was on the right track. Thanks for the tech.

  22. Sigh…
    If only, if only…
    sydney australia must love to beatdown!
    conley I played your list last sunday
    before this last iteration (no finks at all anathemancer, 1 clique, 1 slime main)
    and got knocked out of contention by mono red
    and a ww deck sporting white knight main
    if only i had read this article and/or had a few red decks bash up on me before the tourney

  23. Conley can you go through your basic sideboard plan? I find that is often the most difficult component of playing a new deck. I would like to try this deck but I am so used to 5-color I have kind of forgotten what it is like to sideboard with an aggro deck.


  24. One of the best articles I’ve ever read on this site…and there are tons of good articles on CFB. Keep up the great brewing, Conley

  25. Hey conley – what are your thoughts on 4x Blightning in the side? Seems really sick to cascade into and helps apply pressure vs 5cc and and time sieve, as well as Fae. I’m tempted to cut 3x hemmorhage and a stag for 4 blightnings. have you tried this idea yet? is it any good?

  26. Hemorrhage is a HOUSE vs 5cc first one get rid of identity crisis and then cruel or anathamancer with a second one (iv found that its often a duel of anathamancers in this match up and with cliques/jund charms ) you end up winning that and i dont really like blightning in this deck bc your already running soooo much card advantage its ridiculous

  27. This deck is not an aggro deck! Please don’t call it that, haha… a deck does not have to be 5 colors to be a control deck.

    You want hemorrhage – don’t cut it. I nearly started running it main deck over hellions because after seeing maybe 3 or 4 lands from your opponent you should know pretty much what to name…

    I would still call out cruel over ID crisis though, that or anathemancer. I guess I have yet to have crisis boarded in against me, come to think of it. It’s not as good against mannequin decks as the mirror and such, so they probably don’t think they need it.

  28. What up Conley!!!!?
    So now that this article has been up for a little while, I’m assuming that you once again feel this deck needs a bit of a tweek. Any new thoughts on the meta and how your deck should be changed?

    At the most recent FNM I went to, everyone and there mom was running time sieve combo. If it becomes a large part of the meta, what do you change? Personally, I’ve been running gaddok teeg. Do you feel there are better plans against the deck?

  29. Alright.. gonna go through and answer some of these, so excuse the long post:

    Firstly, thanks for all of the positive feedback, it means a lot 🙂

    1: You should always account for the hate that other decks will be boarding in, but most of that will result in a different playstyle. The few actual board changes include things like Slime to nail Runed Halos that will invariably come in. Playing around something like Puppeteer Clique is all play variance not sideboard variance.

    2: That Tidehollow Strix + Finest Hour was pretty sick… I just need to throw Swerve into the mix and I have a game breaker.

    3: Slime should never come in against Fae. You actually enjoy the idea of Bitterblossom sticking around in that matchup as you are just going to be Wrathing every few turns anyway and will be burning them out with Anathemancers etc. The only time I attempt to take out BB is on the play on turn 3 with Pulse. Risking getting anything countered later can cost you.

    4: The general boarding plan is quite long so I won’t post it on here, hit me up on facebook or email and I will get back to you.

    5: Blightning is fine and was an anti 5CC card idea for a while, but Hemorrhage is so much better if it resolves. You always name Cruel Ultimatum unless you have some knowledge of your opponents deck and sideboarding. And Identity Crisis will come in less than half the time against you so I wouldn’t name that. In order to work in Blightning you are shifting to a different style deck. It is fine in here but I don’t like it over the other options that are more versatile in different matchups.

    6:This deck will sadly die with Zendikar as youa re losing all of the Evokers, Finks, Mannequin, and Vivid Lands/Pools. I am sure some controlling recursion deck will exist again eventually, in the line of this or Solar Flare, but The coffin gets nailed on this one with Zendikar.

    7: This deck should constantly be changing, so yes, it should be different. Adapt it to your metagame and it will work out best. It takes some work, but most things in Magic do. Teeg is good against Time Sieve as is some hand disruption and targeted removal like more Pulses. If you are having a tough time versus them.. think about Vithian Renegades as an answer as he is efficient, disruptive, and works with Mannequin. Turn 2 Leech, turn 3 Renegades should just beat that deck 90% of the time.

    Again thanks for reading and for the feedback!

  30. How about something like Bituminous Blast? I don’t know what to cut because I haven’t played the list…but it’s one of the most powerful on-colour cards and will just win games when it hits elf.

  31. You don’t have to run 2 Forest… Another Twilight Mire or swamp works there. The biggest concern is keeping Putrid Leech available on turn 2 and having some basics to not get totalyy wrecked by other people’s Anathemancers. 2 Forests are a very minimal thing as you have 5 Filters that turn those Forests into workable mana… And Cruel is a 7 mana sorcery… But the mana base can be changed however you like.

  32. Overall an amazing article Conley. It's interesting to see the innovations of a break-out deck like this as the metagame evolved.

    Couple questions/comments:

    Are the Cloudthreshers in the sideboard really necessary? Other than the Fae, what would you board them in against?

    I'm not under-estimating the Fae, I'm just saying it's a tad over-kill. Fallouts, Finks, Stags, Anathemancers… & Cloudthreshers? I think the match-up vs. the Fae is nearly a bye.

    Could you not achieve a similar result by running Jund Charm? Even though it's less affective against the Fae, it helps you in other match ups: Kithkin, Elves, and even Time Sieve (or the mirror) by removing their graveyard.

    I also wanted to get your take on Putrid Leach. Before the new rules, Putrid Leach was a house. (damage on the stack, pump Leach, your guy dies, mine lives) But now, I'm find him the continual target of Bolts and Paths after pumping. Any thought of replacing the potential 4/4 for 2 with another two or three drop? (like Vithian Renegades or Stags main)

  33. Cloudthreshers come in against 5CC alot of the time too to clean up Plumveils and be an instant speed threat. In addition, they can come in against some Kithkin decks if you absolutely need more ways to deal with Procession, but I generally advise against that. Jund Charm would be pretty good in that slot for those reasons, worse against 5CC obviously, but better against the bad matchups. Fae has answers to Stag now with their own bolts and Paths, so it is important to have multiple weapons against them. Jund Charm is worse than Thresher against them, but not a blank so it could work.

    Leech is still one of the best 2 drops ever printed regardless of any rules changes. The Pump after dmg was used somewhat infrequently anyway, but I understand the concern. The issue with adding another 3 drop is overloading that slot and not having any turn 2 plays other than evoked Shriekmaw. So, if you are able to find a 2 drop that you like for that position, go for it. The best substitute off the top of my head is Qasali Pridemage as he adds disruption in the bad matchups while being aggressive when needed, but GW could be difficult on turn 2. You may be able to get away with Vexing Shusher though as he keeps the 5CC and Fae matchup strong like leech.

  34. I'm not sure if Putrid Leech is one of the best two drops EVER printed. Dark Confidant and Goyf come to mind well before Putrid Leech does. (but that's a whole other discussion)

    I agree that your three slot is overwhelmed and adding another 3 drop is clunky. In this deck Putrid Leach fills the 2 slot as well as any other card I suppose. I just haven't been entirely impressed with him over the past couple months. It might not be the rule changes per say, but it's definitely been a bulls-eye for removal. I find more often or not that I'm down 2 life AND a guy every time I pump him.

    Also cascading into him is actually the 3rd worst thing this deck could cascade into if you can imagine, (1st being Pulse without a target, & 2nd is Anthemancer staring down at basic lands).

    I personally would rather see something more impactful when it hit the board like Tidehollow Sculler, but then the mana base would be out the window. Pridemage and Shusher are quite interesting in their own regards. But being more of an agro player, I personally would like to see Stigma Lasher make a resurgence. Believe it or not, he actually poses a new question for your opponent. "Does not gaining life hurt me in this match up?"

    Although somewhat insignificant, Stigma Lasher does provide an answer (directly or indirectly) to Kitchen Finks, Wall of Reverence, Chameleon Colossus (to some degree), and yes, even Putrid Leech.


    I've personally found the Jund match-up vs. Faeries (in general) to be a cake-walk even without CloudThresher. The key to Faeries is not to kill their Bitterblossom, (unlike another comment above), but to sweep their board, or bait out a counter spell at the end of their turn and hit them with Anathamancer or Thought Hemorrhage their Cryptics or Mistbinds.

    Sure, Jund charm isn't a direct replacement for CloudThresher, but it does give you versatility against you're weaker match ups. I mean nothing says, "screw you Time Sieve" more than Jund Charming your opponent's graveyard after they sac'd 5 artifacts to Time Sieve and tapped out to cast Open the Vaults.

  35. The conversation of the leach is an interesting one. I have to agree that I hate cascading into it. However, I think its by far the most powerful two-drop in the format at the moment. I’ve been heraing a lot of complaints about taking two just for it to die. This comes down to “how do I play with leach?” not, “does leach suck?”

    In my experience, if I know my opponent is sporting removal for the leach, and he has the mana open, I just leave it as a bear. I’ve gotten a lot of goans at this play, as leach deals another two and they just don’t answer him. I realize the missed opprotunity for dealing an extra two every swing, but I’d rather have another two the fallowing turn, then be down two life and four damage. This play against lightning bolt especially has been succesful, as they have to two for one it the majority of the time.

    I’m interested in knowing how others play the leach as well, as he’s a powerful card, but only when play correctly.

    Also, I’ve been rather disapointed in Fallout maindeck. Has anyone else had this feeling? Might just be my matagame.

  36. What do you guys think about Sign in Blood over Mulldrifter? Or is the fact that you can Mannequin him back for another 2 cards the most important part?

    Also, another thought is a couple of Masters of the Wild Hunt against Aggro, because unanswered, they’re pretty unbeatable.


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