Most of my Commander expeditions start with mechanics that I was in love with by experiencing them in competitive formats. This deck was created to memorialize the Jeskai MTG Mutate Combo deck that was popular around Kaldheim Standard. While an American team in the pro tour optimized the deck to its final list, I played the deck since its inception (it was much worse back then). I had a decent amount of success playing competitively with Jeskai Mutate, winning a significant amount of cash while battling against players much better than myself. To remember my journey, Vadrok Mutate was created.
DISCLAIMER: This is a high-power Commander deck. It’s not at the level of being CEDH, but it may not be something for more casual tables. If you want to power down the original list, I will give options to do so.
This deck is also tough to pilot. While it’s absolutely broken in the hands of someone who’s had reps on similar strategies, it’s just a fair value deck to those who don’t navigate longer turns properly.
What is Mutate?
Mutate is a rather unique, and confusing mechanic that was created in the Ikoria MTG set. Mutate allows you to stack creatures on top of one another for alternate casting costs. If you successfully Mutate a creature, you may choose to put it on top or on the bottom of the creature stack. The Mutated creature’s stats are whatever’s on top of the stack. Most MTG Mutate effects trigger at every instance of a Mutation, so every Mutate trigger present in the pile of creatures will trigger. Here are some common traits and situations for Mutate:
- In addition to having stats of whatever is on top of your Mutated creature, it will also have all the keywords (flying, first strike, etc.) of every creature in the pile.
- You cannot Mutate on a human creature
- All abilities of every Mutated creature are active and accounted for.
- If your Mutate target is killed in response to your target Mutate spell, the Mutated creature will still resolve. However, it will enter the battlefield on its own and will not trigger any Mutate effects.
- If you bounce a Mutated creature, every creature in the pile will return to your hand.
- If you flicker a Mutated creature, all of the creatures will come back as separate creatures. No Mutate effects will be triggered.
- A creature’s stats, colors, and creature type are all decided solely by the card on top of the Mutate pile.
- Mutate will not trigger Enter the Battlefield effects. Conversely, creatures like Hushbringer will not stop Mutate triggers.
Mutate is an incredibly confusing mechanic. To try and clear up additional questions, you can look here.
My iteration of Vadrok Mutate is a combo toolbox created by starting from the combo available in the constructed Jeskai Mutate deck and expanding from there. Most of your win conditions will involve looping mutated creatures with bounce effects like Snapback and Winds of Rebuke to create infinite value and deal infinite damage (Winds of Rebuke can also mill infinitely). Due to the nature of the deck, there are a bunch of smaller infinites that you might run into by accident. For example, the Displacer Kitten combos are in this deck if you choose to play it. Unfortunately, these combos are pretty tricky to understand, so I will outline them in the article.Vadrok, Apex of Thunder‘s Mutate ability allows you to cast noncreature permanents from your graveyard. This can be anything from Planeswalkers to Enchantments. While most of the cards you will be recurring will be instants and sorceries, there are exceptions to the rule. Since Vadrok only cares about non-creature spells that cost three or less, most of your Commander deck should fit these requirements.
The basic Jeskai Mutate combo from the Standard iteration of the deck involves the following:
- Have Goldspan Dragon, Vadrok and Lore Drakkis available to you in some form. Goldspan Dragon needs to be in play, and you need to have enough mana to Mutate Vadrok onto Goldspan Dragon.
- Prismari Command and a bounce spell of some sort (like Unsubstantiate) need to be in hand or in the graveyard.
- Start by Mutating Vadrok under Goldspan Dragon. Since Goldspan was targeted by a spell, it will trigger and create a treasure token. On Vadrok’s trigger, recast Prismari Command from your graveyard.
- Use Prismari Command to create a treasure and target Goldspan Dragon, dealing two damage to it. Goldspan will see the target and create another treasure token. You are currently up one mana. You should have six mana in treasure tokens at this point (since Goldspan Dragon doubles treasure mana).
- Mutate Lore Drakkis under Goldspan Dragon. Goldspan will trigger again, creating another treasure token. This makes the Lore Drakkis mutation free.
- Vadrok and Lore Drakkis will trigger. Cast Prismari Command with Vadrok, and return a bounce spell to hand with Lore Drakkis. Note that you need to resolve the Lore Drakkis trigger before casting Prismari Command.
- Use the same targets for Prismari Command that you did in the previous step. Goldspan will, once again, create four mana worth of treasure tokens. Here’s where things get complicated.
- If you let the Prismari Command resolve, your Goldspan will die. To prevent this, target Goldspan with a bounce spell while Prismari Command is on the stack. Depending on which bounce spell you choose, Goldspan may net mana or lose it. Losing Mana here is a problem, but neutral mana is not. As a result, when building this deck, make sure to keep the majority of your bounce spells at two mana or less.
- With the bounce spell on the stack, you should have four treasure tokens available to you. Float all the mana from those treasure tokens before the bounce spell resolves (which should be eight mana). If you fail to do this, you cannot continue the loop.
- At this point, Goldspan bounces back to your hand with all your other Mutate creatures, and you should have one treasure token on board. Go back to the first step.
- This is infinite mana. Repeat this process as much as you like, than start alternating Prismari Command targets to your opponents face for infinite damage.
The nice thing about playing with this in Commander is it’s pretty challenging to assemble. As a result, you won’t be winning all your games on turn five, but there are other powerful cards and combos in this list that allow for different ways to win the game.
READ MORE: The Best Tutors in EDH
Other Core Cards
Besides maybe Displacer Kitten, Jeska’s Will is the best card in the whole deck. This is one of the cards you will tutor for the most, and not having Jeska’s Will dramatically decreases the power of this Commander deck. Recurring Jeska’s Will with Vadrok loops will generally win you the game that turn (as long as you navigate it correctly). Even when lowering the deck’s power level, Jeska’s Will is not something I would cut. Since it also had a recent reprint, Jeska’s Will should be more affordable.
Another card that has no business being as powerful as it is, Dockside Extortionist is unreasonable. This can generally function as a second Goldspan Dragon trying to combo off with Mutate loops. As a premier win condition for the deck, there are many ways to tutor for this. This is core to how my build of the deck works but can be removed for a lower power deck. Generally, a better option is to remove the tutors that would find Dockside Extortionist instead of removing the card itself.
The Bounce Spells
A significant component of this deck is having bounce spells to recur your Mutate creatures for additional value. Here is my personal choice for bounce spells that you can play in Vadrok Mutate:
Winds of Rebuke is, without a doubt, the best bounce spell in this deck. Looping Winds of Rebuke will mill everyone out, and passing the turn will end the whole game. Since this is both a bounce spell and a win condition, it’s the best card in this category. As a plus, it’s very inexpensive
I like Unsubstantiate because it can also double as a soft Counterspell in situations where you aren’t looking to win the game. It can also acquire massive value with your Mutate stack.
This deck draws a lot of cards. Snapback, as a result, will generally be a free bounce spell. This can also help to net mana when trying to create Mutate loops with all the pieces available.
Here’s another option that generates mana each time it bounces a Mutate pile. Snap is essentially a free spell in every situation.
Capsize will be a net negative in most Mutate loops, but it doubles as a win condition when you have the mana to support it. Being able to infinitely bounce everything, including lands, to your opponent’s hand is a quick way to get a concession from the table. Capsize used to be rather expensive, but now only costs a dollar.Into the Roil is one of the most original bounce spells. It fits the bill of being an infinite enabler in Vadrok Mutate when needed, but it can also draw you a card while delaying an opponent.
Generally, Crystal Shard will not create infinite loops, but it is a bounce spell that can offer a value path to an infinite that doubles as protection for your permanents on the opponent’s turn.
READ MORE: The EDH Guide to Adventures
This is another essential category to consider when playing Vadrok Mutate. You will be able to recur these, so expect to be casting each of these multiple times in a game. Cantrip spells are all good, but I will skip over those to look at more explosive options.Expressive Iteration recently received a ban in multiple formats for a good reason. This card is incredible in every setting, and EDH is no exception.
A cute unconventional option from my time playing heavier combo-centric versions of Mutate in Standard, See the Truth is a value engine. It’s not fantastic coming from your hand but turns into an Ancestral Recall when casting it with Vadrok from your graveyard or exile from your other value spells.
Here’s another unconventional card that finds a home in Vadrok Mutate. Three Wishes exiles three cards face down and let you cast those cards until your next turn. Once your next turn does come around, Three Wishes sends all the exiled cards to your graveyard. Since we’re a graveyard deck, this is the same as drawing cards. Just make sure some of your un-castable combo pieces like Goldspan Dragon are accounted for.
Competitive formats have proven time and time again that any graveyard deck wants Faithless Looting by its side. This deck is no different.Search for Azcanta has been very effective in Vadrok Mutate. It allows you to filter cards into your graveyard to recur with Vadrok, gives card selection, and transforms into a value engine once the requirements are met. Even better, if it ends up destroyed, Vadrok can recast it.
Whirlwind of Thought is a valuable powerhouse in Vadrok Mutate. Because you are casting spells so frequently, this enchantment nets a ton of cards. It can’t be recurred by Vadrok, making Whirlwind of Thought a good option for lower-powered Commander tables.
I mention this card at the end of the value section because of the expensive price tag attached. Unfortunately, Wheel of Fortune is the best Commander Legal value engine accessible with this deck. The real danger of this card is that it’s a spell that Vadrok can cast repeatedly. There are some weaker iterations of this effect, like Windfall, that I have excluded from my list. If I want to optimize the current list, I should probably run all the powerful wheel effects. This deck is good enough as it is for my playgroup, however. Another weaker instance of Wheel of Fortune will also be covered in the next section, so don’t fret if this is out of your price range.
Another fun interaction I wanted to add to my Vadrok deck was its interaction with Suspend. If you can discard these cards from your hand, Vadrok can cast them from your graveyard for free. For reference, Suspend Spells that do not have a mana cost are recognized as zero mana spells. Some extremely powerful decks in Modern abuse this with Cascade spells. This also allows for the Suspend Spells the skip Time counter phase. If you want to power down this deck a bit, swapping out some of the more potent tools for silly Cascade cards is a way to go.
Here’s that weaker version of Wheel of Fortune I was talking about. If you’re using Vadrok to cast it, this functions the same as a Wheel of Fortune would.
On the topic of casting weaker versions of insanely powerful cards, Ancestral Vision allows Vadrok players to experience the thrill of casting multiple Ancestral Recalls.
Of all the Suspend Spells I run in Jeskai Mutate, this has proven to be the most powerful. I’ve cast several Blightsteel Colossus on turn three from my opponent’s decks. The best part about Inevitable Betrayal is that you don’t even need to feel bad when hitting something ridiculous. It’s your opponent’s fault for playing it!
To Mutate, you need something to Mutate onto. Besides the creatures that have already been mentioned in the article, here are some more considerations for your Mutate masterpiece.
Dreadhorde Arcanist is not a Mutate creature, but Mutate stacks will retain the effects of creatures even if they’re not on top of the pile. This allows you to Mutate Vadrok on top of Dreadhorde Arcanist, cast a spell, then cast it again since Dreadhorde Arcanist will now have three power. Note that it will get exiled once you cast something with the Arcanist’s ability. As a result, consider not casting core combo pieces with this ability. Note that Dreadhorde Arcanist can cast Suspend spells without any assistance.
Sea-Dasher Octopus is a fun and powerful Mutate option. Since it comes down at instant speed, casting it on a Vadrok can be akin to casting a Counterspell. While generally casting a spell when being Mutated, Sea-Dasher Octopus can also allow you to draw cards when it connects with opponents.
If you want to take a CEDH approach to Vadrok, you will cut Cubwarden from your 99. Regardless, this creates a swarm of cat tokens to protect your life total or pressure your opponent whenever you go into a Mutate loop. Using it as an extra Jeska’s Will is also straight value.
You’re thinking of running a Mutate deck without playing Babygodzilla itself!? You should be ashamed! In reality, though, this can be another base creature that starts Mutate infinites due to its cost reduction to Mutate casting costs.
Copy effects like Sakashima the Imposter are unconventional in Mutate decks. An interesting thing to note, however, is that copy creatures like Spark Double and Sakashima of a Thousand Faces will copy the whole stack of a Mutate creature. You can then bounce your original stack and start Mutating the copy stack for multiple Mutate triggers. This is another quick way to go infinite but can also be a silly value engine.
Wait a minute… Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is human? Yeah, you can’t Mutate on top of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, but it’s still an excellent option in Vadrok. Jace represents straight value because you care about your graveyard. Once its requirement is met, it turns into a powerful ally.
Ironically, my build of Jeskai Mutate runs a lot of humans. If you want to power down the Mutate deck, most of the humans will surprisingly be the first thing to go.
This is an absurd addition to Vadrok Mutate, as it checks off every box. It ramps, which my iteration of the deck doesn’t do, is a mutate target, and comes down at instant speed. This allows us to dodge sorcery speed removal when going for a Mutate play.
Here’s another fantastic instant speed Mutate target. Aboleth Spawn can steal your opponent’s ETB effects and offers protection for your Mutate pile by providing Ward. While my current list does not have either of these Baldur’s Gate cards, they would make fantastic additions.
How to Power Down Vadrok Mutate
For those who like the silly nature of Mutating stacks of creatures, cheating out suspend spells, and copying piles of Mutate creatures but don’t want the oppressive power level that my list offers, here are some considerations on what to cut:
Don’t Play Tutors
Tutors become easily re-castable in Vadrok decks. This allows you to find your combo pieces at lightning speed and start the storm-like process of going infinite. My list runs a lot of tutor cards in it. Consider replacing those for sillier value options like more Copy effects or cheap re-castable board wipes like Citywide Bust.
Tutor cards are all costly as well. Cutting these cards is a great way to build Vadrok on a budget.
Don’t Play These Two Planeswalkers
These Planeswalkers add a massive boost in power to your Vadrok deck. Combining Narset with wheel effects is a great way to end a game with the table salty. Teferi shuts down any chance for your opponent to interact with your Mutate loops and is a straight win condition with Displacer Kitten. If that wasn’t enough, Vadrok could also recur these from the graveyard. Without these, you can build a powerful Mutate deck, but the best will play them.
Don’t Play Underworld Breach
A deck of this nature will almost always win the game outright when playing Underworld Breach. You can win without it, but adding it offers another way to go infinite. Once again, Vadrok is also capable of recurring this.
I’m Not Even Playing this Card
For me, this is where the line is. If you want to take a CEDH direction with Vadrok, Lion’s Eye Diamond is the optimal way to do it. Since you can recast it with Vadrok, Lion’s Eye Diamond is even better than usual.
How to Beat Mutate
Ironically, with all the boasting about the insane power that Vadrok Mutate can offer, beating it is pretty simple. You only need to do two things:
- Kill every single creature they play. Even if things only have enter the battlefield effects, they can all be win conditions. This is easier than it sounds since the majority of most Vadrok decks tend to be non-creature spells.
- Interact with their Graveyard. Play a Grafdiggar’s Cage or Exile it. I got locked out by a Ground Seal in one of my games for an unreasonable amount of time.
This is the current Jeskai Mutate deck I am running for a table at a higher power level. I’m working on creating sideboards for the deck to give it different power modes and allow it to match whatever rule zero the table agrees on. Some of the options in this deck are not optimal (especially the lands). This is on purpose. There are resources for players who want a more robust Vadrok deck than this, and if that’s your jam, I encourage you to build it! I hope you have as much fun as I have interacting with wacky Mutate creatures!