Decks that Morph

Posted in Feature on February 13, 2003

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

Fear the unknown...

Every week, folks send me cool decklists to read. Before you get too excited about submitting one of your own, I’ve made it a rule not to give feedback to decklists people send me because of the time involved. But I do enjoy reading them, and often the decks I make in my articles are inspired by someone else’s cool idea. I consider seeing a horde of innovative decks each week a huge perk of this job.

One kind of deck conspicuously absent from my e-mail has been morph-based decks. Lots of folks send me tribal decks and cycling decks--Onslaught’s other two key mechanics--but very few people have assembled a deck that really focuses on morph.

The absence of morph decks became a lot more noticeable with the release of Legions. Not only does Legions provide a horde of new creatures with morph, but there are now a lot more incentives to make a morph deck. Today I’ll play around with some of the possibilities here.

First off, let’s look at the tools Onslaught made available with regards to morph-based decks.


Morph brought a great deal of bluffing into Magic’s creature battles. Most obviously, then, you may have been excited about tossing a bunch of morph creatures into a deck for no other reason than to keep an opponent guessing. The advantage to a deck like this is an opponent never knowing when to block or when to Shock your little faceless dudes as long as you have mana available. The more morph creatures in your deck the better because it decreases the probability of your opponent guessing a critter’s identity correctly. And the more varied the abilities the better because it means an opponent can never decide to always block under X condition or never Shock under Y condition.

Here is an example of deck meant to maximize this surprise factor:

From the Shadows

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Unfortunately, these decks sacrifice a lot of speed for their surprise. They want to win through creatures, but they essentially have to cast them creatures twice if they want to gain the advantage of morphing. The bluffing part is great fun, but you might be dead before you can do anything which is, as we all know, less fun.


There is one card in Onslaught just begging for a morph deck: Ixidor, Reality Sculptor. He’s a “lord” of face-down creatures (which I still think is really cool) and he can flip any morph card over irrespective of its morph cost. Decks with Ixidor, then, are packed with scary monstrosities like Krosan Colossus, Krosan Cloudscraper, Grinning Demon, and Towering Baloth, combat-tricky fellows like Riptide Entrancer, Headhunter, and Snapping Thragg, and “morph-trigger” freaks from Legions like Skinthinner, Nantuko Vigilante, and Aphetto Exterminator.

Ixidor, Reality Sculptor

The great luxury of a deck with Ixidor is that you really only need access to blue mana and Ixidor for all of your morphing fun. If your creatures stay face-down, they are still legitimate threats at 3/3 and if needed you can flip any of them over for . What Ixidor decks need to worry about, then, is how to reliably find Ixidor, how to get him into play quickly, and then how to protect him once he’s there. Without Ixidor, an army of Gray Ogres is pretty underpowered.


Finally, Astral Slide opens the door for a similar disregard of morph costs. By cycling a card, a deck with Astral Slide can remove its face-down creature from the game, only to have it return as an Imperial Hellkite. This is a pretty cool trick, especially since Astral Slide doubles as a way of controlling opposing creatures and saving your own from harm.

Astral Slide

The real challenge in building a morph deck with Astral Slide is that you are really building a morph-cycling deck. You need enough cards with cycling to get Astral Slide up and running while also having enough creatures with morph to flip over. Usually this turns out to be too many directions to pull a deck, although I have seen a couple green/white decks that work reasonably well thanks to Living Wish.

In summary, then, if you just look at Onslaught, you have three different reasons for building a morph deck:

  • Surprise, which sacrifices speed for massive bluffing fun,
  • Ixidor, Reality Sculptor, which is cool except that decks with him tend to rely very heavily on his presence, and
  • Astral Slide, which presents lots of deckbuilding challenges in splitting between morph cards and cycling cards.

No wonder so few morph-based decks made their way to my email inbox.


Along comes Legions and now the incentives start to look pretty attractive:

Primal Whisperer
Primal Whisperer

Primal Whisperer is to morph decks what Yavimaya Enchantress is to Enchantress decks--he (hopefully) gets really big as the game progresses. He is by far the least exciting new addition to the morph parade, but he fits into existing morph deck reasonably well. For example, if you can’t find your Ixidor, at least you have a backup plan for generating offense from the faceless 2/2s you may or may not be able to morph. Here’s a deck that hopefully illustrates this point...

Lies & Whispers

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Master of the Veil and Weaver of Lies
Master of the Veil
Weaver of Lies

As I said when previewing Warbreak Trumpeter, the lure of the morph-trigger card is finding a way to reuse the flipping-over ability. Backslide went from complete trash to sort of intriguing thanks to morph-trigger, and two cards from Legions--Master of the Veil and Weaver of Lies--complete the set of ways to get repeated uses out of a card like Bane of the Living. Since all of these cards are blue, it’s easy to envision a deck that adds “bounce” cards like Echo Tracer and Chain of Vapor to fulfill the morphing madness.

Here is an expensive deck to build because of its high rare-count, but it sure is packed with morph-trigger tricks...


Download Arena Decklist

Planar Guide
Planar Guide

Remember when I pointed out that the trouble with building a morph deck with Astral Slide is that you have to worry about finding room for both morph cards and cycling cards? Well, Legions took care of a lot of these issues with Planar Guide. Like Astral Slide, Planar Guide will remove your creatures from the game and put morph cards back into play face-up. Unlike Astral Slide, the Guide doesn’t rely on cycling at all and affects all of your creatures. The advantage here, then, is that you can forget worrying about cycling and instead load up on morphers. Check out Anthony’s recent article for a very explicit look at Planar Guide.


Finally, Legions provides two brand new ways to make a morph deck. The first is Dermoplasm, which has a Shifty Doppleganger feel to him but without a lot of the drawbacks of the Shifty One. Dermoplasm can care less about morph-trigger and creatures that do interesting things when they damage an opponent. Dermoplasm wants big, snarling, deadly creatures it can put directly into play. (Why does Dermoplasm suddenly feel like The Rock?)

In fact, Dermoplasm is a much better compliment to Ixidor, Reality Sculptor than Primal Whisperer because it a) is blue, and b) provides a second way to turn high-cost morph cards into quick creature beatings. The only real downside is that any deck you make is going to be stuffed full of rares, the likes of Exalted Angel, Krosan Cloudscraper, Quicksilver Dragon, Silent Specter, and Rockshard Elemental.

Skirk Alarmist
Skirk Alarmist

Skirk Alarmist rounds out the reasons to build a morph deck and may be my favorite of the bunch. His ability can be used the same turn he comes into play thanks to haste, and he can take full advantage of both the “I have big morph creatures waiting to be unleashed” and the “I have morph-trigger creatures waiting to mess with you” tactics.

Everything I have said about Ixidor, Reality Sculptor applies to Skirk Alarmist except that the Alarmist is cheaper and isn’t a Legend. It isn’t blue, either, which means a really dedicated morph deck with the Alarmist in it is going to run the same too-reliant-on-a-single-card problem as Ixidor decks unless the deck dips into a second color (in particular, blue). Either that, or it needs a backup plan. An example backup plan is in the deck below, which can quickly become a threshold-Dragon deck.

Dinner Bells

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Hopefully today has tickled your brain a little about the possibilities surrounding morph-based decks. Thanks to Legions, now every color--even black because of Faceless Butcher--can play around with gargantuan morph cards and morph-trigger effects. Play around with the options and see what you can create. Pretty soon, maybe you can even earn the impressive nickname “Sir Morph-A-Lot,” “Flipper,” or “Trigger Happy” amongst your group of friends.

Next week: A different environment.


Jay may be reached at

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