Lights Out - Talir Mask
Hello Eternal enthusiasts! It’s been a while. I’ve been super busy with travel and preparing for TykesOutAce for the last couple of months, but I’m finally back and I’ve got some things to say about Talir Mask.
There are many people who hate Talir Mask for a variety of reasons: it’s boring, it takes too long, it’s combo in a game without sufficient interaction, it feels stupid, and many more. While I won’t deny that it gets boring after the first few times, one of my primary motivations for writing this article is to address the second point: the time it takes for the deck to combo.
In the interest of completion, allow me to start by explaining the combo: With a Talir, Who Sees Beyond in play, play Auralian Merchant or Dark Return or Last Chance on it to put it into play, then fetch Vodakhan, Temple Speaker with Merchant. It gains Destiny and goes directly into play while drawing you a card. Since your Time units and Power cards have Destiny, and your deck is almost entirely Time units and Power, you play your whole deck.
There are 11 cards in the decklist that aren’t played for free by the Talir + Vodakhan combination, so in order to guarantee playing the whole deck, there are several cards that draw more than one card once the combo begins: Temple Scribe, Talir’s Favored, and Friendly Wisp. You can also play Devours and Dark Return effects if you hit a couple of power with Vodakhan before drawing them. This is where the long combo time comes into play: it takes a long time to play 50+ cards from your deck, and people vainly hope that their opponent will mess up, time out their turn, or lose to a Harsh Rule the next turn. This article is to help address all of those and allow you to concede 15 seconds or less in to the combo with the peace of mind that you had no way to win.
The Last Chances, Dark Return, Masks, and Devour all ‘fizzle’ the combo once it starts. If you hit 2 power before hitting a Devour you can just eat a unit to keep going, and Last Chance is free, so the only way to fail to combo once assembling Talir + Vodakhan is to hit all three Mask of Torment before hitting two +1 card activators (the aforementioned Temple Scribe, Talir’s Favored, and Friendly Wisp) since you already get a card draw from the initial playing of the Merchant. Once two +1 card activators are hit, the Talir Mask player is guaranteed to be able to play their entire deck no matter what its order is. A note about going off: if you suspect that the opponent has fast removal (or can afford to wait to be safer), you need to combo at 11 power by hardcasting Talir and Merchant so the opponent doesn’t get a response window. They can respond to Dark Return or Last Chance by killing Talir and make you very sad, so be wary of Annihilate, Equivocate, and the like.
If you playing against Talir Mask and are hoping they will play their entire deck and you will Harsh Rule and beat them, that won’t work either. There is Lumen Reclaimer to shuffle in the void so they don’t deck out, and they can end the combo at any time to ensure the turn timer doesn’t mess it up and that it is repeatable each turn. Let’s dig into that last part.
The way to play the combo in a perfect, timer-less world would be to play your entire deck while keeping Lumen Reclaimer in play (target the opponent with Reclaimer to preserve your full void), get down to less than 10 cards in your deck, then hit the free card limit or sacrifice all of the Talirs to Destiny units entering play, and then sacrifice Lumen Reclaimer. Your deck will be only a couple cards including 4 Lumen Reclaimers (ideally only 4 Lumen Reclaimers, but this would require counting your extra draws while combo-ing to ensure you draw to exactly 0 cards in deck and that isn’t reasonable), your field will be 12 massive units from Alheds, your void will be full, and your hand will be multiple Last Chance, Dark Return, Masks, and Devours. If your opponent sweeps the board, you Dark Return Talir, Last Chance a random small unit, and shuffle in your void with the first Reclaimer you hit. You can end each turn in the exact same position. In addition to filling up your board with increasingly larger units, you gain 20-30 health and get a bunch of power from Mask of Torment(s) every turn and summon up to four Tormentors. This is also why I play three Last Chance and one Dark Return; the Dark Return can grab Talir so it stays in the circulation of your deck and the Last Chance can be played on something you don’t care about recurring like Talir’s Favored or Lumen Reclaimer.
The only thing that can possibly beat the Talir combo going off is a board with Marshall Ironthorn ready to Ultimate and about 20 more strength in play than the Talir Mask player’s health when they begin going off. Even that out can be cut off by playing a Xenan Initiation version to give Killer to a 96/96 Talir at the end of the combo. You CAN just play Xenan Initiation and skip out on the Lumen Reclaimer, but then you run into trouble against decks that play sweepers and don’t have units in play, and against deck with fast removal for the unit you cast Initiation on.
With the timer being a factor, you can’t get AS deterministic of a win, but if you stay on top of sacrificing units quickly you can get close. Failing that, sacrifice your Destiny-granting units as soon as you see your turn timer start to appear and Market for Xenan Initiation or just end your turn in a dominant position ready to combo again next turn (or even on your opponent’s turn if you only sacrifice Vodakhan [leaving a Talir in play] and have Devour in hand).
Since it is impossible for the Talir Mask player to lose once they start going off if they know what they’re doing (which hopefully they should after this article), you can just concede once they hit two +1 card activators, which should only take about 15 seconds. Save everyone a ton of time by just scooping instead of hoping they mess up!
With all that said and explained, let’s get to the decklist:
3 Last Chance (Set1004 #17)
1 Dark Return (Set1 #250)
4 Initiate of the Sands (Set1 #74)
4 Blistersting Wasp (Set2 #202)
4 Devour (Set1 #261)
3 Friendly Wisp (Set1 #82)
3 Talir's Favored (Set0 #11)
4 Temple Scribe (Set1 #502)
4 Auralian Merchant (Set4 #70)
1 Lumen Reclaimer (Set3 #80)
3 Mask of Torment (Set2 #212)
4 Sandstorm Titan (Set1 #99)
3 Alhed, Mount Breaker (Set4 #87)
2 Lumen Defender (Set1 #115)
3 Talir, Who Sees Beyond (Set1 #124)
2 Shadow Sigil (Set1 #249)
7 Time Sigil (Set1 #63)
4 Amber Waystone (Set3 #51)
4 Crest of Mystery (Set4 #266)
4 Seat of Mystery (Set0 #61)
4 Xenan Banner (Set2 #201)
4 Lunar Magus (Set3 #69)
1 Banish (Set2 #207)
1 Mask of Torment (Set2 #212)
1 Vodakhan, Temple Speaker (Set1 #347)
1 Talir, Who Sees Beyond (Set1 #124)
1 Xenan Initiation (Set2 #44)
There are very few flex slots due to the constraints of the deck - you have to play all power and Time units besides the Devours, Masks, and Dark Return and Last Chances.
I’ve seen a lot of people cut Lumen Defender, but it is excellent against Combrei aggro and frequently is a power with Mask, which is great to gain while also making an impactful play on the board. It bridges to 8 well enough that I still play two. Another spot of contention is the Devoted Theurge/Lunar Magus slot - Magus is better against Feln aggro, and with fewer Dark Returns in favor of more Last Chances, Theurge isn’t as exciting since you can’t Dark Return it to draw two cards off of a Friendly Wisp. Theurge is fine to cut since this isn’t a deck trying to hit absurd power counts with Mask - it generally wins shortly after hitting 8 or 11 power. Magus also draws a card for both players, which is usually better for you as the Talir Mask player since your late game trumps everyone else’s. Some lists also cut various things to max out on Friendly Wisp, Alhed and/or Talir’s Favored, but I’ve liked my current split.
The market is a big point of contention between various lists. There are three immutable cards that make up your combo: Talir, Who Sees Beyond; Mask of Torment; and Vodakhan, Temple Speaker. I’ll go over the cards I frequently see in the other slots.
Lumen Reclaimer: I went over Lumen Reclaimer in-depth earlier, so suffice to say I think it is a mistake not to play. The problem with playing it in the market is that market slots are VERY precious to Talir Mask since it can only play Time units in the flex slots main deck. Since Lumen Reclaimer is a Time unit, you can play it main and have it rarely hurt you. Sure, it’s worse to draw than a Friendly Wisp or Alhed or Lumen Defender, but the market slot is extremely precious, so I play it main and highly recommend you do, too.
Magus of Celerity: The idea behind Magus of Celerity is to have a win condition in the market that, unlike Xenan Initiation, isn’t vulnerable to spot removal. The problem is that it’s ONLY useful when you have gone off with the combo, and it takes a long time on ladder since you need to combo off, sacrifice your Vodakhan, resolve Merchant trigger to grab Magus, and THEN combo again to get a bunch of Charge units. It also doesn’t work against full enemy boards. I think Magus is worse in every way than Xenan Initiation and Reclaimer, and only Reclaimer is needed for a deterministic win, so there is no reason to play Magus of Celerity.
Vara’s Choice: A versatile removal spell that kills everything is a great place to be, and I can’t fault anyone for playing Vara’s Choice. I personally don’t because I prefer Banish.
Banish: Banish removes the units you care about (cheap, aggressive threats and Statuary Maiden, who can make you deck out if the combo takes too long to find Alheds for giant units) and also helps a ton against relics. Mask of Torment, Cauldron Cookbook, and Combustion Cell are all popular, and Banish is nice, clean answer that runs double duty in the anti-Maiden slot.
Sandstorm Scarf: Before the last round of nerfs and the Into Shadow campaign, Sandstorm Scarf was in my market. It is your best card against your worst matchups, Rakano Valkyries and TJP fliers, but is pretty useless elsewhere. Since Rakano Valkyries is much weaker and slower due to the Icaria nerf (and you don’t care about Telut since at that stage of the game you can just chump and combo) and TJP is much weaker due to Vara being printed, Scarf isn’t necessary anymore.
Xenan Initiation: You don’t NEED Xenan Initiation to win if you have Lumen Reclaimer, but it’s nice to have the versatility of another removal spell as well as opening up the possibility of winning the turn you go off. Having Initiation in your market also saves a lot of time in tournaments, as some people won’t scoop to the Reclaimer loop because they have a couple Harsh Rules in hand and don’t understand how the loop works to prevent Rule from running you out of cards. You can just explain how Initiation kills them that turn and save 5 minutes.
There aren’t too many more ways to evolve the deck; you can trim flex slots for more Friendly Wisps if the meta is slow or add Scorpion Wasps if there are a ton of fliers, but the general core and combo is hammered out at this point. You absolutely demolish any slow control or midrange decks and are weak against fliers, and that isn’t going to change. Aggressive midrange decks like Combrei are slightly favorable, and you could tune to be slightly better against them at the cost of some fast combo consistency.
I don’t know if this deck will survive the next round of balance changes - many dislike the play patterns (but hopefully a little bit less now that they can just scoop 15 seconds or less into the combo), and combo decks have historically been stamped out even when they were slow. I won’t be upset if Talir gets nerfed to only affect Time units in your deck or Vodakhan gets an influence requirement for his ability since the deck gets boring after the first few times. Personally, I think there are sufficient avenues of interaction between hand disruption, relic removal, and fast removal all slowing the deck down. Killing an opponent who cannot play removal before they get to 11 power isn’t too tall of an ask. Regardless, it is a deck you should know how to play and play against for as long as it remains legal.
Until next time, may your Masks always come down turn 4 and dodge the Bores.