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Around the Wheel: Illuna, Apex of Wishes


Mutate is... weird. It's capable of doing a whole bunch of wild things in this little game of ours. If a planeswalker can turn into a creature until end of turn, for example, you can cast a creature with Mutate, put that creature on the 'walker (which is currently a creature) on the top. When the Planeswalker stops being a creature, it will be underneath the other creature with Mutate, which means the creature with Mutate will have all the abilities of the planeswalker, all of which have the limitations and capabilities of the 'walker's abilities. That means you track the loyalty separate from any other counters on the creature, but it can't be attacked like a 'walker can. What?

Exactly. So that's precisely what we're not going to do. Instead, we're going to abuse Mutate far more directly - no combos, no in-depth rules explanations, just good old fashioned deck-building. What better way to do that than with a Beast Elemental Dinosaur?

Illuna, Apex of Wishes

It's the free spell aspect of Illuna that really caught my attention. Any time we can sneak out a seven, eight, or ten-mana spell for no mana, I'm here for it. It almost becomes the point of the deck for me; I'm less interested in winning and more interesting in doing absurd stuff. So, while the spells we cast for free could be game-winners like Omniscience and Blightsteel Colossus (and if that's you go for it!), instead we're going to focus on things that are a bit more fun and fair.

This is also a nifty deck-building opportunity. In order to lean into Illuna's Mutate-for-free-spells thing, we've got a few hurdles to jump over. First, we've got to have Mutate creatures. There aren't a ton of those to begin with, so we're probably just going to run them all (I think it's 18 in these colors). Then we want payoffs; most of the Mutate creatures aren't that exciting without the Mutate ability, and we can't cast them for their Mutate costs for free off Illuna, so we need additional permanents to cast for free. We also generally want them to be big and powerful, but not so big and powerful we can't hard-cast them if they wind up in our hand.

Then, in order to make sure the payoffs are in our library where we want them, we'll need some ways to manipulate the top of our library. Finally, Illuna is five mana (six to Mutate), so we probably want to ramp - and this is good, because if we do end up needing to hard-cast an 8-drop, it helps to have hurried up to eight mana.

Mutate, payoffs, manipulation, and ramp. Rather than our normal way of doing things, let's go through the four major sections of the deck, but we'll do it backwards, starting with ramp.

We have 39 lands, and we don't want to cut it any further. The ramp will make up for the one we're missing to get to our full 40. Most of them are basics, too, because most of our ramp spells search for basic lands and it's a bummer when ramping fails because we're out of targets. Additionally, all the ramp in this build search for two lands. You've got your Cultivates and Peregrinations, which put one on the 'field and guarantee a drop next turn by putting the other in your hand, but you've also got your Circuitous Routes and Nissa's Expeditions, which put two lands straight onto the battlefield. There are the Rampant Growths out there, and it's possible they're worth it, but I'd rather have big mana than faster mana. However, it might be worth running Farhaven Elf and Ondu Giant, because they leave behind a body for Illuna to Mutate and they can be cast if we flip them with an Illuna activation.

We also want to control the top of our library. There are a few ways to do this. One option would be to go all-in on Scry, which could work. However, digging deeper will help more. Something like Halimar Depths is fine and worth running, though if you see three lands there's not a lot you can do about it. Brainstorm is better and also worth the place. Be careful how you stack, and make sure the card you want is right where you want it. Contingency Plan and Taigam's Scheming are both great here; for just a couple of mana we get to look at five cards, and we actually have recourse if we want to get rid of a card or two. Ancestral Knowledge is worth the Cumulative Upkeep; 10 cards is a lot, and if we can just get a single free spell off it it's normally worth it. If we get two we're probably ahead. Crystal Ball is wonderful repeatable Scry, though Sensei's Divining Top, annoying as it is, is probably better if you have one. Honestly, run both if you have a Top. Finally, Scroll Rack is a real all-star here. It lets us put back all the cards from our hand we want to cast for free and draw new ones to further manipulate our library, or better, get more Mutate opportunities. Keep in mind the point here is to avoid throwing away a bunch of great cards as we dig for Illuna's nonland permanent. However, this can also be a way to exile unneeded lands or ramp spells.

Mind's Dilation
Our payoffs attempt to be fun and powerful at the same time. There's Mind's Dilation, which lets us cast more free spells, except this time they belong to our friends. Kiora Bests the Sea God and Sandwurm Convergence both make big tokens and give us different benefits. Sunbird's Invocation gives us more free spells; even casting a ramp spell off that is great. Fiery Emancipation makes our threats threat-ier; when a 6/6 hits for 18, it's a big deal. Stormtide Leviathan is always fun; combine with Sandwurm Convergence to make it so you can't be attacked. Nyxbloom Ancient seems like a thing worth having. God-Eternal Rhonas is great to have around, plus the power-doubling thing is no joke. It That Betrays and Nezahal, Primal Tide are both big, huge, and enormous, plus they come with some extra stuff. If your friends really hate Annihilator, consider a different option for the Eldrazi. Apex Altisaur is also massive and counts as removal, while Cavalier of Gales helps us stack the top of our library for more Mutate fun. Etali, Primal Storm is yet one more way to get some free spells off our friends.

Okay, I was wrong, including our commander, we have 17 creatures with Mutate, plus three more that care about it. Mysterious Egg and Essence Symbiote are both great early plays, since they get bonuses whenever they Mutate. Pollywog Symbiote keeps our cards flowing and makes it easier for us to cast our Mutate creatures. The rest of them are primarily there because they Mutate, though the abilities are often valuable. Porcuparrot and Pouncing Shoreshark are removal. Sea-Dasher Octopus is card advantage. Gemrazer is a Naturalize. You get the idea.

We've got a few more things we can do. Strionic Resonator is always great when there's a triggered ability around. Temur Sabertooth can Boomerang a Mutated creature back to our hand, giving us more chances with it, and Eternal Witness does the same from the 'yard. Cyclonic Rift is kind of our one actual answer spell. And Genesis Ultimatum is simply fun to have in a deck like this. We can actually cast it, and when we do it should be pretty great.

Using my fellow CSI writers' scale, I'd call this deck a 4. It's fun, it's interactive, but it's shaky. Lots of pieces have to come together right for it to be really amazing (though when they do it'll be great fun!), and it is sorely lacking answers to other people's decks. However, this is a great place to start with a deck like this, because in the playing of it you'll determine what it needs to work better, be more consistent, or simply be more fun. It's possible it doesn't need every Mutate creature; maybe it'd be better to run a few more ways to get creatures back from the 'yard. Adding a Mimic Vat to your Eternal Witness comes to mind. Maybe it needs fewer payoffs and should lean into one or two big spells to win the game - Long-Term Plans into Blightsteel Colossus with Fiery Emancipation and a couple ways to give Haste, for example. Perhaps the ramp should be permanent-based so it doesn't get exiled by Illuna... or maybe it shouldn't be so when we hit, it's always something of consequence and not a 1/1 that gets us a Forest. Maybe a Crystal Shard and other methods of repeatable bounce are better than tons of Mutate creatures. All of these are things to discover, but this starting point will work and get you walking down the right path.

How would you build Illuna? What direction would you push her if you did? What Mutate shenanigans did I leave out which you would include? Let us know in the comments!

One of my favorite commanders is Maelstrom Wanderer, so I seriously considered doing that deck, but ultimately settled on Mutate. And next week, we begin the final run of the series with four-color!

Thanks for reading, and stay safe.

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