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Calling All Recruiters

Calling All Recruiters

With the full spoiler for Masters 25 out, I’d like to discuss a card that has been near and dear to my heart for most of my Legacy career. A card that was once previously thought to be unattainable with any fiscal sense, a veritable holy grail in terms of availability and the kinds of decks it enabled. This card is something that I dreamed of building around, but the steep price and rarity made me shy away in favour of cheaper Legacy decks. I’m talking about Imperial Recruiter, arguably the only reason most people even remember Portal: Three Kingdoms was even a thing.

Imperial Recruiter was often seen as the epitome of “randomly expensive Legacy card due to scarcity”, existing only as a judge foil and in Portal: Three Kingdoms, a set from 1999 based heavily on Chinese mythology that wasn’t widely available. However, despite its scarcity, Imperial Recruiter’s power level gives it a home in certain Legacy and Commander decks. The ability to tutor for any creature with power two or less gives it incredible flexibility, and as such makes it a staple in the decks it’s played in, as you will typically be finding creatures that end the game on the spot. Now that Imperial Recruiter makes its triumphant return in Masters 25, players who have always wanted to try it but weren’t able to drop thousands of dollars on a set now have their chance. So just how broken can one little 1/1 get?

Painter Stone is one of my all-time favourite Legacy decks just because of the angle of attack it operates on. Essentially, the game plan is to assemble Painter Servant and Grindstone. Painter Servant makes all cards a chosen colour, while Grindstone mills the opponent two cards, and if they share a colour you repeat the process. Since all the cards in your opponent’s deck are the same colour, this repeats until they have no cards left. What makes this so powerful is that between Ancient Tomb, City of Traitors, Simian Spirit Guide, and Chrome Mox, you have more than enough acceleration to win as early as turn 2. As well, by going mono-Red, the deck has the potential to play turn 1 Blood Moon, which is often a death knell for fairer multicolour decks.   


The inclusion of Imperial Recruiter allows you to tutor up Painter Servant at will since it’s only a 1/3, but also gives the deck the ability to include a package of creatures that can be tutored up to disrupt the opponent. This is generally used as a diversion until you can find the Grindstone, but some of the creatures you can find are devastating, such as Magus of the Moon, which is essentially a tutorable Blood Moon. If on the off chance one of your combo pieces is destroyed, Painter decks often run Goblin Welder to swap any artifact in play for one in your graveyard. This can combo particularly well with Jaya Ballard, Task Mage which can discard cards for three different effects, the most flexible of which being a Pyroblast on a stick. With Jaya in play, you can discard an artifact to get an effect, then use Goblin Welder to put it onto the battlefield. As well, Spellskite is a fine tutor target to protect your combo cards from an errant Lightning Bolt or Ancient Grudge, as well as acting as a blocker and deterrent for pump effects like Invigorate out of Infect decks.

The other Legacy deck notable for abusing Imperial Recruiter is Aluren, and while certain builds have adapted Recruiter of the Guard as a budget alternative, the core remains the same. Aluren allows each player to cast creatures with converted mana cost three or less for free at instant-speed, so the goal of the deck is to assemble a combination of creatures that can cause the opponent to lose at instant-speed. First you tutor up Dream Stalker to bounce Recruiter back to your hand, then cast it again and find Cavern Harpy. You play that bouncing Dream Stalker, then you play the Stalker to bounce your Recruiter. Finally, you cast Recruiter and find Parasitic Strix. From there you cast the Strix, drain the opponent for two life, then bounce the Harpy and cast it again bouncing the Strix. This forms a loop of Cavern Harpy bouncing itself and Parasitic Strix over and over until the opponent has been drained out. Imperial Recruiter acts as the lynchpin of the deck as it can tutor up virtually everything in the deck and sets up the entire combo, so this reprinting is sure to cause an uptick in Aluren appearances at Legacy events.

Legacy isn’t the only format that gets shaken up by Imperial Recruiter. There are two types of Commander decks that are prime for abusing Recruiter: Red weenie decks and Kiki-Jiki decks. Traditionally, Red decks have been devoid of card advantage like tutors, and outside of narrow and risky options like Gamble, there aren’t a lot of options if you want to see specific cards in a reasonable timeframe. What Imperial Recruiter does for decks like Goblins or Alesha, Who Smiles at Death is it gives them the flexibility and consistency that other colours have taken for granted, tutoring up that Master of Cruelties or Karmic Guide or even Goblin Ringleader to keep up with more draw-heavy Blue and Green decks.


Kiki-Jiki decks get a massive boost from more available Imperial Recruiters, although ironically not with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker as a Commander. Imperial Recruiter can tutor several cards that can go infinite with Kiki-Jiki, enabling the tried and true combo for killing a table. Deceiver Exarch, Pestermite, Village Bell-Ringer, Felidar Guardian, and even Kiki-Jiki itself are all tutorable with Recruiter, with Felidar Guardian having the distinction of being able to blink Recruiter to find Kiki-Jiki and complete the combo. With more copies of Imperial Recruiter on the market, suddenly any deck with Blue and Red becomes far more consistent, and I could even justify splashing the combo in a deck even if it’s not the core focus just to have that “I Win” button you can press when things go south. If you’re expecting this reprint to cause a proliferation of Kiki-Jikis the way I do, I’d recommend stocking up on Sudden Shock and Pithing Needle as soon as possible.

Imperial Recruiter was one of the more shocking reprint announcements to come out of Masters 25, and with good reason. The sheer scarcity of this card made playing a deck with them kind of a status symbol, a signal that you were willing to shell out huge amounts of money to make your combo decks more reliable. With Masters 25 we’ll see much more of these decks since everyone who previously wanted to play them now has better access to a set. Overall, I’m more excited to see this in the set more than Jace, the Mind Sculptor or even the sweet new Sundering Titan art, and that’s saying something. I’m positively ecstatic over getting to play Painter Stone in Legacy, and the applications for Commander have me at the drawing board trying to brew new and exciting cards to tutor up, and that makes Masters 25 a win in my book.

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