Maestros Massacre Precon Upgrade Guide

Tom AndersonCommander

Tom takes a look at the Maestros Massacre Commander Precon deck, and has some suggestions for how to give it a bit of an upgrade!

We now know the details for the Streets of New Capenna Commander precons, among the biggest products for the format this year. While we now see a couple of Commander decks released to accompany every Standard set, this time we get a fully-fledged cycle of five precons: each dedicated to the flavor and mechanics of a New Capenna “family.”

Maestros Massacre

I’m really impressed by how well WotC managed to define each of these new three-color affiliations in just one set. The Maestros (who use red, black, and blue mana) do share elements of artistry and fatalism with their cousins in the Rakdos Guild or Strixhaven’s Prismari, but their role as professional assassins makes them seem more goal-oriented and calculating than those predecessors. 

They also stand out thanks to the strong sense of hierarchy which sets the old-money, art-collecting vampires who lead the Maestros apart from their more expendable help. These flashy assassins are pride-bound to fulfill every contract, even if that means sacrificing their foot soldiers or causing some grisly collateral damage. Their callous commitment to their goals is captured by the Maestros’ signature mechanic, casualty – and the commander of the Maestros Massacre deck is here to show the benefits of this playstyle like nobody else can.

Meet the Artist

Anhelo is the default (and intended) commander choice for this precon; I was surprised by how much of this list builds around him specifically. I think it’s the right call though, because Anhelo’s design really sets him up as a fantastic commander choice at any level of play! He’s cheap enough that his important build-around effect will reliably be in play every game, even if you need to re-cast him a couple of times before he sticks. While his stats are defensive, the deathtouch keyword has always overperformed for me out of the command zone – it at least gives opponents pause before attacking you with valuable creatures early on, and can be beneficial for a wide variety of later interactions. 

Of course, it’s Anhelo’s all-important static ability which defines the Maestros playstyle. Adding their casualty mechanic to other spells ensures this deck has a distinct identity without limiting it to just the handful of New Capenna cards aligned with the Maestros. And there’s obvious power in the ability to double-up ANY instant or sorcery with no additional mana cost or limitations on the spell! 

Sacrificing for His Art

The Painter still leaves plenty of room for deck builders to express themselves creatively, just as he loves to do with his own work. Still, there are a few guiding principles to Anhelo’s deck design which we can observe from the precon:

Use casualty to fuel itself with token generators:

The synergies in this deck will naturally push us to play as many instants and sorceries as possible, but you ideally also need enough creature fodder to pay for casualty every turn. The easiest solution is to play token-creating instants and sorceries, which both benefit from Anhelo’s effect and ensure he’ll never be short for sacrifices in future turns. Any spell which makes tokens that are 2/x or bigger will do, and the precon starts us off with a handful of them.

Spend those lives dearly by copying bigger spells:

Since the cost of casualty remains flat no matter which spell Anhelo is copying, you’re incentivised to play the biggest instants and sorceries you can – or at least ones which can scale up.

My article on Magic rules traps from a few weeks ago is definitely worth re-reading here, particularly the sections on copying and additional vs. alternative costs. But one key thing to remember is that copying an X-cost sorcery or a kicked instant with Anhelo will copy those same empowered effects. Do also stop to consider how well your spells actually scale with copying effects – I’d argue that Make an Example is slightly out of place here because of the diminishing returns you get from copying it.

Make sure you get paid – use Anhelo every single turn:

Anhelo’s replacement effect only applies to your first instant or sorcery cast each turn – but that does include the first instant you cast on each opponent’s turn as well! 

This gives us a welcome excuse to play some cheaper interactive spells and cantrips alongside the huge haymakers we just talked about. You can feasibly take over a slower game with Anhelo just by copying a few cantrips each turn cycle, backed up by the threat of a doubled removal spell.

The only drawback here is that you’ll burn through your sacrificial creatures much faster with this approach. But after you resolve a copied Army of the Damned or similar mass-token spell for the first time, Anhelo’s pretty much free to cut loose with the casualty casting until the next board wipe.

This constant need to feed the engine is your primary concern as an Anhelo deckbuilder. Luckily, the precon is already stacked with cards which help secure your supply of casualty fodder and payoffs each turn. By including spells which can be cast from graveyard or return themselves to hand, you can all but guarantee a big value train of copied spells to run over Anhelo’s marks!

Cutting Edge Technology

Looking past the Painter for a moment, the Maestros Massacre precon also packs its fair share of brand new cards and useful reprints. Not all seem ideally suited to play in Anhelo’s 99, but it’s still worth taking stock of them all before we start looking for our upgrades:

Dogged Detective

Self-recurring casualty fodder + draw smoothing, but less reliable and mana-efficient than alternatives. It’ll be better in other decks.

Sinister Concierge

Much cooler casualty fodder, essentially tacking suspend onto a future Opt (or non-Anhelo sacrifice cost).

Spellbinding Soprano

Finally, a flavor-appropriate use of the encore ability! Discount is nice but having to attack is clunky.

Kess, Dissident Mage (reprint)

Kess is great for ensuring you have high-quality spells to copy, but nonbos with the powerful recursion in this deck, like Maestros Confluence.

Syrix, Carrier of the Flame

You could easily convince me this was meant to go in the Riveteers deck, or a precon from another set! A cool commander option, but zero real synergy with Anhelo.

Parnesse, the Subtle Brush

A sweet politics card, one which gives you and your opponents some interesting choices. Perfect commander for signaling “don’t worry, this is my casual Grixis deck”.

Body Count

It’s better in decks with repeatable sacrifice engines, but good after someone wraths your tokens away. Cheaper alternative costs like spectacle are doubly efficient when copied!

Damnable Pact (reprint)

Anhelo really wants cards to say “as an additional cost, pay X life” – you don’t copy costs, but you do copy effects, and this will hurt you twice if you copy it. Still good though.

Frantic Search (reprint)

This family of land-untapping spells have some real explosive potential in a deck which can copy them for no mana, but this and Snap have the best utility.

Waste Management

Very nice graveyard hoser to cast on someone’s end step. If you pay both kicker and casualty you exile TWO whole graveyards, setting up a free swing with your surprise army!

Audacious Swap

Basically as good as Chaos Warp, if slightly more restrictive. With these colors getting other tools to beat enchantments lately I think this spell makes a fine tradeoff.                                                         

Make an Example

These “fractional” effects don’t scale the best with copying, but this keeps your board intact while guaranteeing you can at least snipe the one (or two) biggest threats from each foe.                

Flawless Forgery

If a spell has multiple instances of casualty – such as casting this with Anhelo out – they are each distinct costs, and you can potentially sacrifice two creatures to copy the spell twice!

Maestros Confluence

Amazingly powerful & flexible card to copy. Fully reloads your hand with the best six spells from your yard, minus however many times you feel you need the other two modes.

Xander’s Pact

Another card where I assume you’re paying double casualty as a default. Massive payoff, letting you free-cast ~10 more spells on the spot (if your life total allows).

Army of the Damned (reprint)

Eight mana for +26 power is a good rate, if not what you always want to do in Commander. But Anhelo makes the case a lot better – +50 power for eight, AND casualty fodder forever!

Dig Through Time (reprint)

While we’re here making good cards even better, why not one of the strongest instants ever? Delve is another cost-reducing mechanic that helps Anhelo cast (and copy) huge spells.

Smuggler’s Buggy

Another “belongs in a different deck” card. We don’t really care about attacking and we especially don’t care about giving cars evasion.

Determined Iteration

These token-making themes seem a little shoehorned in, even with the obvious intent of fuelling your casualty triggers.

Cryptic Pursuit

Doesn’t trigger off your copies and you do have to pay full price for the spells it lets you cast, but it still looks strong!

Extravagant Replication

Again, an undeniably high-ceiling effect to justify this cost, but think: are you building your deck to maximize value here, or from Anhelo?

A New Coat of Paint

As you can see, there’s at least a few cards in this list which seem like easy first cuts – at least if you’re planning to keep Anhelo in the command zone, which I am. So what sort of effects should you replace them with? And what subtle traits are we looking for when choosing which version of an effect to include?

Cut any creature without unique utility for a token-making spell

Ideally, you want to both cast an instant/sorcery and sacrifice a creature on every turn of the game. We get closer to this nirvana with every token-producing instant or sorcery we include. I do think there’s an upper limit, but the space I’m reserving is more for different spell effects – card draw and interaction – than it is for actual creature cards.

It’s definitely right to keep a few creatures in, but we hold them to a high standard. If they aren’t providing a unique, synergistic and valuable effect, cut them. Even the creatures which are intended to be recurring sacrifice fodder are technically in competition with the token-producing spells! So if they’re less efficient than Squee, we can probably lose them.

Swap out effects which don’t scale well with Anhelo for synergistic versions

Honestly, the design team at WotC have already done a surprisingly good job at picking out instants and sorceries that benefit from copying. But we can still find upgrades which work even more optimally with our commander of choice!

There’s a range of reasons why a spell might really stand out as good for copying. Spells with cost discounting abilities (like delve or spectacle) or those with additional, non-mana costs can let us double a much more expensive/impactful spell than we normally could afford. Effects like Clone Legion or Dark Salvation actually empower the effects of their own copy. Spells like Pirate’s Pillage which partially refund their cost (especially in treasures) are a great way to generate big tempo swings, now or for future turns.

It might be hard sometimes to know what to cut – as I said, the deck really hasn’t got many outright “bad” cards in this class – but I’d err on the side of cutting the most expensive spells, sorceries first. Lowering the average mana value across our deck maximizes our chance of getting consistent Anhelo uses every turn he’s out.

Take it Away, Maestros!

This is a really excellent precon deck, sacrificing only a slight bit of flexibility in Commander choice but securing itself a unique and appealing gameplay identity. Anhelo has painted his way into my heart just in the course of writing this article – I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I keep working on this deck in paper for a while to come, so entertaining is his constant spell-copying.

Lucky for me, there’s a lot more room to experiment and self-express through Maestro’s Massacre than I might have expected. I’m going to try adding a few ways to clone Anhelo, or at least his effect, to potentially get even more copies of spells like Bone Shards! I know at least one player who’s trying to figure out an optimal Storm build with him – and another who I’m sure will end up with some form of Grixis vampire voltron, buffing the Painter with +1/+1 counter placement and other power-increasing instants and sorceries!

Each of us (and you!) are free to pursue our own vision of gory Maestro glory, and so long as we have the commitment to fully realize it – whatever the cost – the many casualties among our underlings will not have been in vain…