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Deep Tracks: Vesuvan Doppelganger


You did it again, you sick son of a… oh hey everybody! Welcome to another edition of Deep Tracks! That’s right; I’m firing up the time-machine and setting our course back to 1993 for another visit to Limited Edition Alpha! This time around, we’re investigating the art of shapeshifting:

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In the beginning there was Vesuvan Doppelganger, the original Shapeshifter! Well, sort of… I can’t give Vesuvan Doppelganger full credit here, because there was a second Shapeshifter in the Alpha set:

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These days, Clone is the most ubiquitous of the two original Shapeshifters. Vesuvan Doppelganger’s last printing goes all the way back to Revised Third Edition, while Clone has been reprinted nearly a dozen times and more recently (Magic 2014 Core Set). However, I think people who are familiar with Old School Magic will likely hold Vesuvan Doppelganger closer to the heart. I remember back in the day Vesuvan Doppelganger was a highly sought-after Magic card and always maintained premium value. And, it was a piece of the deck Zak Dolan piloted while taking first place at the inaugural Magic World Championship in 1994!

Wow, that is a crazy pile of Magic cards! And Clone was also in the deck! As bizarre as Stasis Control seems, this is what the Pros were doing back in 1993 / 1994. Zak Dolan’s Stasis Control is one of the most famous decks in the history of Magic: the Gathering, and serves as a good starting point for our Shapeshifter examination.

Flash forward 25 years, and I still find Shapeshifters grabbing a hold of my interest due to a pair of recent reprints and a new Shapeshifter from Rivals of Ixalan:

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Vesuvan Shapeshifter was first printed in Time Spiral as a callback to Vesuvan Doppelganger. Both cards are very similar in their design, with one key exception: Vesuvan Shapeshifter’s “repeatable cloning” element functions via its morph ability. I like this subtle twist. The ability to clone a creature at Instant speed adds a level of trickery. Fun fact: Quinton Hoover created the artwork for both Vesuvan Doppelganger and Vesuvan Shapeshifter, in case you didn’t notice!

Lorwyn Standard

To illustrate the power of Vesuvan Shapeshifter, I dug up a Grand Prix winning decklist from GP Krakow (circa 2007):

We see here that a deck built around Vesuvan Shapeshifter reach the very top of a major Magic tournament. Paul Cheon’s deck was packed with lots of sweet cards like Cryptic Command, Ancestral Vision, Wrath of God, and not to mention, Teferi and Venser! The key combo of the deck is Vesuvan Shapeshifter plus Brine Elemental. With both cards in play, you can lock your opponent out with a pseudo Stasis prison, and then close out the game by attacking with Brine Elemental! This is all thanks to Vesuvan Shapeshifter’s ability to copy Brine Elemental’s “turned face up” trigger.

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Modern

I won’t lie; attempting to brew a "competitive" Modern deck around a Shapeshifter was not an easy task. Evil Twin requires a legal target in order to be useful / playable, otherwise, it just dies when it enters the battlefield. That being said, I really wanted to work Evil Twin into a Modern deck, so I gave it a shot:

It’s a Delver deck, featuring a wide variety of spells and Evil Twin as a top-end utility piece. I decided to go this route because Evil Twin made me do it. Seriously though, I really like what the Shapeshifter brings to the table. If we are under pressure or falling behind, Evil Twin can be an extra piece of removal. If we are applying the pressure, Evil Twin can copy Delver of Secrets or Gurmag Angler. Also, Evil Twin can copy our Snapcaster Mages. mhm.

U/B Delver includes alot of staple cards like Serum Visions, Fatal Push, Remand, and so forth. But I managed to slot in a few off-beat elements as well. Here's two of my favorites:

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Echoing Truth and Blink of an Eye can serve as protection, improve tempo, or allow us to reset Evil Twin if need be. They also represent the over-arching theme of my U/B Delver list: versatility!

Standard

Protean Raider is the newest Shapeshifter to be printed into the Standard card pool. It’s your typical bulk-rare that no one talks about… perfect for Deep Tracks! Protean Raider is also a Pirate. That’s cool!

Assembling a Pirate deck seemed like a fun idea to me, so I conjured up a team of Swashbucklers to fight alongside Protean Raider:

What we have here is full-on Pirate tribal. In order to maximize our use of Protean Raider, I decided that the deck needed to be aggressive so we can trigger raid more often than not. However, it is worth recognizing that (unlike the other Shapeshifters we've looked at so far) Protean Raider can be cast without needing an actual target for its cloning ability. While a 2/2 creature for three Mana isn't a very good rate, in a pinch we at least have the option of playing Protean Raider as a vanilla 2/2.

As far as the rest of the deck, we want to be aggressive early in the game, and then manage the mid to late game with Protean Raider and Hostage Taker. We also have a light removal suite to keep our opposition in check, and Lightning Strike provides a little reach. We're leaning heavily on Hostage Taker and Protean Raider as our primary way to deal with potent threats such as Hazoret the Fervent, Glorybringer, and The Scarab God, to name a few. And I had to make room for Vraska's Contempt as a hedge against Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Karn, Scion of Urza decks.

Lastly, I realize that Pirates have been examined quite intensely for Standard, but I'm keeping in mind the fact that Core Set 2019 is on the horizon and quickly approaching its July release date. And to a greater impact, Kaladesh, Aether Revolt, Amonkhet, and Hour of Devastation will be rotating out of Standard in just a few months. Conversely, Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan will not be rotating out! With this in mind, I'll be keeping my eye on the tribes of Ixalan as we move forward.

Conclusion

Shapeshifters are odd-balls in the realm of Magic. But I think that's what makes them so intriguing! And it's great to see the creature type is still alive and well long after the initial release of Vesuvan Doppelganger and Clone in Limited Edition Alpha.

After a good amount of research and tinkering, I can say that Shapeshifters are generally best suited to play a supporting role. However, some Shapeshifters are potential combo enablers as we saw with the U/W Pickles deck. Surely, it's not that cut-and-dry though. There are a great number of Shapeshifters from Magics past available to us, and I have a hunch there are plenty of other creative ways to put them to use.

Well, that’s it for now. Let me know what you think! What other Shapeshifters are out there? What are your thoughts on Zak Dolan's Stasis Control and Paul Cheon's U/W Pickles? As always, all comments are welcome, thank you so much for reading, and have a great one!

Twitter - @WallofOmens

-John

Sources & related info:

Quinton Hoover

1994 Magic World Championship

GP Krakow 2007
 


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