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Mutating in Standard with Nethroi Abzan

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While it may come as a surprise to some, mutating is one of my favorite mechanics in a long time. While it initially seemed a little confusing, it seemed to work just fine in practice. I think the creatures that mutate are pretty cool, and their effects are usually worth the price of admission. Where I think the big failure of mutate may lie was that they didn't have the same protection in place that a mechanic like bestow did. With bestow, if your enchanted creature was killed, your "enchantment" would simply enter the battlefield as another creature. Not so with mutate. If your opponent blasts the creature you've mutated onto, both cards are just going to the trash can.

This is unfortunate, but also why all of the mutate cards have things that happen when they mutate, like creating a creature, or dealing damage. You're essentially meant to be getting a card's worth of value from the effect, while also improving a less impressive creature... so it makes sense.

As you may know, when it comes to my favorite of the five mythic mutate creatures from Ikoria, Nethroi, Apex of Death is easily my favorite. While these cards see very little play, I think they're actually super cool, and I wish they were all a little more competitive. If I had to rank them, they would look something like this:

5. Vadrok, Apex of Thunder.

Vadrok, Apex of Thunder

Vadrok just doesn't do much. Being able to cast a spell for 3 mana or less one time is just not exciting, especially since it's unlikely that you'll be mutating that frequently. Combine that with the fact that it's just a 3/3, and a Mantis Rider this is not.

4. Brokkos, Apex of Forever

Brokkos, Apex of Forever

While Brokkos is number four, I still really like this card. I didn't at first, because it was pretty generic and I wasn't super impressed by it when it was spoiled, but being able to mutate onto things like a Paradise Druid or a Gilded Goose when they're terrible top decks can be invaluable. While Brokkos isn't super exciting, I still really appreciate the recurring value it provides for a mere five mana.

3. Snapdax, Apex of the Hunt

Snapdax, Apex of the Hunt

My only issue with Snapdax is the color combination, as I don't feel like I've had a great deck to include him in since it was printed. Otherwise, I love that it attacks for six and is also able to Warleader's Helix when it mutates. That's a really powerful ability.

2. Illuna, Apex of Wishes

Illuna, Apex of Wishes

Illuna is definitely number two on my list, and I think you'll see that the first two here both have the ability to pull permanents into play, and I think that really leaves them head and shoulders above the rest. The only downside of Iluna is that it's almost worse than the easier-to-cast Auspicious Starrix. In fact, it's actually kind of weird they both exist. They're both Green, they both cost five mana, they both mutate for six mana, they're both beasts, they're both 6/6, and they both put permanents onto the battlefield from the top of your deck. I have always been confused by how similar these two cards are, but I think both are good, so... who knows.

1. Nethroi, Apex of Death

Nethroi, Apex of Death

As you could likely tell, this would be my first choice. I think both sides of the card are great, whether you're just casting it as a 5/5 with lifelink and deathtouch (two very relevant abilities), or whether you're mutating it to get back any number of creatures. Nethroi is part Protean Hulk and part Eerie Ultimatum (another gem from Ikoria), and I feel like the trickiest part is getting enough creatures into the graveyard to really exploit it. The effect is very strong.

An interesting fact is that all of the legendary mutate creatures are some combination of Beast, Cat, Dinosaur, Elemental, and Nightmare, and each creature type is represented a total of three times among them all.

All that being said about mutate, one of my favorite cards to try and build around has been the aforementioned Nethroi, and a couple weeks back I figured I would try it out in a Yorion shell. The basic goal of the deck was to play a bunch of value creatures that we could either return from the graveyard with Nethroi, Apex of Death, or that we could blink with Yorion.

After a good deal of testing and playing, this was the final list we ended up with (which you can see videos of down below).


After a good amount of tweaking, this version performed pretty well, and I was really happy with where we ended up. One thing you may notice, however, is that we eventually whittled down the deck to a single Nethroi, which I thought was unfortunate. The problem was that I kept feeling like there wasn't a good enough distribution of cards to return for value; as I mentioned earlier, we also didn't have a lot of ways to get creatures into the graveyard, so returning several of them was more of a secondary plan at best.

Looking at the deck now, I feel like we would definitely want at least one copy of Agadeem's Awakening. The card has been really impressive in all the decks I've played it in, especially since, at worst, it's just a swamp.

If you want to see the entire deck-building process, I encourage you to check out the video below, as we had a pretty good time.

One other deck I want to show off today is another version of Abzan trying to exploit Nethroi, piloted by MesklateBrother to a 5-0 finish on Magic Online.


This deck is definitely more in line with what I was looking for when I set out to brew up a Nethroi list. There are two main components that help it work. The first is that there are a ridiculous 35 creatures in the deck, leaving room only for the remaining 25 lands. This is a level of commitment I'm not sure I was ready for. The second component is the cards that mill you, such as Skull Prophet, Mire Triton, and Acolyte of Affliction. The full set of Fiend Artisans is another way to get creatures into your graveyard, and the Fiend Artisan himself is a great way to get a large creature into play with Nethroi while only taking up "one" power.

The deck also has a significant amount of one-ofs, which are sweet and something I also tried with things like Kogla, the Titan Ape, Nighthawk Scavenger, etc. As with any deck that has tutors, this is a great way to add a kind of toolbox to hit whatever kind of creature or ability you may need when you reanimate them.

The two decks definitely have more than a few things in common, and I love the commitment to Nethroi that the second one employs. I'm looking forward to putting it through its paces on MTG Arena in the next few days, so be sure to keep an eye out for me on Twitch.

That's about all I have for this week. I think mutate is a super cool mechanic, and I wish there were more cards with the mechanic in general. It's fun to try and exploit the mutate cards while we still have them, because I feel like it's always been a fairly underplayed mechanic. Let me know what you guys think about it, and about the decklists! Are they missing anything? Leave a comment down below with your thoughts!

As always, I love you guys, thanks so much for reading, use FRANK5 for 5% off, stay safe out there and I'll catch you guys next week!

Frank Lepore

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