Unstable Mutation: Mind Flayarrrs

This was actually a fairly hard to write article for a strange reason – Mind Flayarrrs is a pretty good deck out of the box. Normally the game plan of the precons are just plain bad. It’s some variant of “slow put out more and more creatures, and swing at your opponents”. There’s also usually a sort of frustrating lack of cards that “ought to be in the deck”.


Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Dauthi Horror is a perfect example of a card that ought to be in the deck. And it is. Normally I’d expect to Wizards to skip over a 2 cost horror and focus on things that cost 5+ or do something absurd, but it’s right here. Along with Phyrexian Revoker and Ravenous Chupacabra and Spellskite, cheap or utilitarian horrors that are good on their own and bonused from their commander. Crazy.

Playing this deck out of the box is fairly straightforward. You want to get out a couple of horrors, and then Captain N’ghathrod and then use your evasion abilities to start slamming through with horrors and milling your opponents out.

Okay there’s something I need to get off my chest. Captain N’gathrod is this guy:

Billy Nighy, Davy Jones, Copyright Disney 2006

I think that’s kind of um, lame. Why can’t Wizards come up with their own IP? Or you know, do more universes beyond. This seems like the worst sort of meeting in the middle, a kind of “it’s obvious what this is but we don’t have to pay for it.” Also the timing is about perfect for Wizards to license Pirates of the Caribbean, since nobody really cares about it anymore and it’s just become another tired franchise being endlessly extended. A sort of Endless Evil if you will. And he’s not really a mind flayer. I mean granted, there is a similar look, but Davy Jones is an octopus man. Mind flayers have tentacles, one assumes, because historically they used them to drill through sapient creatures brain boxes to get at the sweet cerebrum therein. As the mind flayers evolved to become more psychic these little tentacles thingies probably because vestigial largely, but it’s perfectly logical. Okay, I’ll grant you this is probably more thought than TSR ever put into mind flayer evolution. And there is a mind flayer (2 sort of) one from Stranger Things which is from D&D and then one from Baldur’s Gate and it’s not a pirate or any of this stuff.

FromTheShire: Quick side note here, Davy Jones isn’t a mind flayer but Captain N’ghathrod is an established Ilithid (Mind Flayer) character in D&D, which is kind of the point of this set. Mind Flayers as a race date way back to the 70’s when D&D was owned by TSR and Gary Gygax, well before the Pirates movies, and is now owned by Wizards of the Coast. There is absolutely a ton of established lore about them as one of the most iconic monsters, including about their life cycle, history of piloting Spelljamming ships, and how they use their powerful and dexterous tentacles for many things, among them eating brains. All this said, yes, the pirate captain incarnation is certainly a nod to Davy Jones, but one that fits within the existing universe and is in keeping with the well-worn Dungeon Master tradition of using other media as an inspiration for elements of your campaign.


Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Captain N’ghathrod aside, horrors and nightmares are neat. I like the distinction they appear to be drawing, that horrors cause mill, and nightmares cause exile (generally). Umbris, Fear Manifest is a nice similar commander, who causes a similar kind of effect, slots nicely into the deck, and is also both a horror and a nightmare.

While exile can lead to your opponents’ win conditions or best cards disappearing from the game, graveyards are graveyards to most players. Cards that go into them are not usually coming back, except in higher-level competitive decks. This archetype is not suitable for those games. There are risks to milling your opponents, and when you are considering who to attack, you probably want to avoid decks that contain black or white reanimation, or red spell re-casting (Flashback, Underworld Breach) but don’t spend too much time obsessing over who exactly to mill.

When you’re playing this out of the box you don’t have a lot of choices really. The deck runs minimal ramp and interaction, and basically no tutors or anything like that. The problem with the deck is there’s really little ability to close out the game. Once Menace isn’t good enough, you have no payoff for all the milling you’re causing. The deck lacks sufficient reanimation or graveyard activity punishments.


There’s a couple of known cards, and I’ve used in various decks before, some of which are game-ending combos.

Throwing all of these in gives a baseline for your opponents not wanting to be milled. The other thing we want is a positive payoff, and the easiest one is to use reanimation cards.

Captain N’ghathrod does this on his own, but many of the best reanimation cards don’t require you to reanimate out of your graveyard. This means potentially stealing the best or most utilitarian creatures from your opponents.

Between your commander reanimation and some targeted ways it ought to be possible to grab some big beefy creatures or else some things that will give you some nice utility.


Credit: Wizards of the Coast

The other important step is to add a bunch more ramp, and some actually bigger creatures, and better removal and interaction, while cutting out the worthless ETB lands and focusing on core lands that are worth having.

Here is the cut list:

1 Forgotten Creation
1 Mind Flayer
1 Sludge Monster
1 Dark Hatchling
1 Dross Harvester
1 Nihilith
1 Woe Strider
1 Psychosis Crawler
1 Phyrexian Rager
1 Plague Spitter
1 Fractured Sanity
1 Hex
1 In Garruk’s Wake
1 Syphon Mind
1 Extract from Darkness
1 Pull from Tomorrow
1 Curtains’ Call
1 Memory Plunder
1 Fact or Fiction
1 Leyline of Anticipation
1 Reflections of Littjara
1 Black Market
1 Choked Estuary
1 Creeping Tar Pit
1 Nephalia Drownyard
1 River of Tears
1 Temple of Deceit
1 Port of Karfell
1 Rogue’s Passage
1 Tainted Isle
1 Temple of the False God
1 Grell Philosopher
1 Psionic Ritual
1 From the Catacombs

And here is the add list:

1 Island
1 Deadly Rollick
1 Reanimate
1 Animate Dead
1 Agadeem’s Awakening // Agadeem, the Undercrypt
1 Dance of the Dead
1 Necromancy
1 Infernal Grasp
1 Go for the Throat
1 Snuff Out
1 Hero’s Downfall
1 Watery Grave
1 Bloodchief Ascension
1 Dreadhound
1 Elder Brain
1 Faceless Devourer
1 Phyrexian Obliterator
1 Syr Konrad, the Grim
1 Thrummingbird
1 Toxrill, the Corrosive
1 Umbris, Fear Manifest
1 Yarok’s Fenlurker
1 Frantic Search
1 Worn Powerstone
1 Prismatic Lens
1 Liquimetal Torque
1 Fractured Powerstone
1 Mana Drain
1 Fierce Guardianship
1 Force of Negation
1 Force of Will
1 Ancient Tomb
1 Urza’s Incubator
1 Phyrexian Totem

This leaves you with a more consistent package of ramp that means you’ll get out N’gathrod on turn 3-4, start slamming away with menaced horrors, and ramp from opponents artifacts or utility creatures, combining with your ability to ultimately force out huge threats, and get out one of your graveyard punishers like Bloodchief Ascension or Mindcrank so that you can actually credibly mill out an opponent, or else kill them via life loss.



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