For its mutate cost, you get a very relevant body and a noncreature card out of your graveyard for zero mana. Overall, it’s a hell of a bargain. The mana cost is slightly prohibitive, as is the necessity for creatures to mutate onto while also wanting to keep your noncreature count high. It’s tricky but doable.
The first noncreatures that come to mind are cards like Banishing Light; Teferi, Time Raveler; and Narset, Parter of Veils. Sagas like The Birth of Meletis are also reasonable, especially since Birth creates a creature (albeit one with defender). Adventure creatures can’t be cast because they’re a creature in every zone except when on the stack, but they allow you to have interaction while also having the requisite number of bodies.
Remember it has to be a non-Human creature, though! I’m definitely going to have to double-check some creature types and I’ll still probably get some of them wrong.
And the “downside” of having your opponent kill the creature you were trying to mutate onto? Well, you have a 3/3 first striking flyer that you slightly overpaid for, but you also got your opponent to use a removal spell on something that wasn’t very important. Additionally, you can keep mutating Vadrok for profit later on, which makes Vadrok a must-kill on its own. Vadrok isn’t bad in multiples either. In fact, it only gets stronger with each playable mutate creature that gets printed, as you get to trigger it over and over again.
Vadrok strikes me mainly as a midrange card that will gain small edges via tempo and card advantage. Those are tools used by aggro and control as well, but midrange will utilize the small-ball effects better than either of the others.
The first card I wanted to experiment with was Teferi, Time Raveler. Not only is it one of the highest-value cards to return with Vadrok, it also protects your investment from instant-speed removal. If you wanted to, you could even bounce Vadrok with Teferi for more value.
Aether Gust looks like it’s going to remain a maindeck staple of Standard, especially with the slew of multicolored monsters in Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. It also happens to be one of the strongest pieces of interaction to utilize with Vadrok because it’s both proactive and reactive. Strict counterspells don’t interact well with Vadrok’s sorcery speed but Aether Gust does double duty, allowing you to keep your mana open to interact while being something you can flashback later.
Using Elspeth Conquers Death to return Vadrok to the battlefield is exciting, especially if there’s a Teferi on your side of the battlefield. Using Vadrok on a Vadrok should end the game in short order. Plus, I fully expect there to be another playable mutate creature in these colors to take advantage of recurring Vadroks.
Having Vadrok and Teferi in my deck makes me want to try Hero of Precinct One, except that Hero makes Human tokens. However, you could play them both as different payoffs and also have Saheeli, Sublime Artificer as a way to enable Vadrok. I tried but couldn’t come up with a list I liked, mainly because of the Hero problem, but also because many of the cheap multicolored spells you want to play in Jeskai are things like Discovery and Depose that don’t work with Vadrok.
We’re not limited to Jeskai. One of the cool things about the mutate cost is that you can play Vadrok in an Izzet or Boros shell and never plan on hard-casting it.
This deck is strange in that it has very few three-mana cards to cast with Vadrok but it should get the job done regardless. We could load up on planeswalkers but Brazen Borrower and Irencrag Pyromancer occupy most of the three-drop slot. There’s not a necessity for either but both fit the theme well and seem stronger than the planeswalkers overall.
Regardless, this deck’s genesis started with Improbable Alliance as an enabler for Vadrok and it’s one of the most undervalued cards in Standard at the moment. Triggering Improbable Alliance each turn is almost trivial and cards like Chemister’s Insight and Thirst for Meaning allow you to do it twice a turn in longer games.
If not for the planeswalkers and Improbable Alliance, Augur of Bolas would be a welcome addition to a deck like this. Finding a spell and providing a body is excellent and will be something I look at in the future.
- 4 Runaway Steam-Kin
- 4 Tin Street Dodger
- 4 Fervent Champion
- 4 Bonecrusher Giant
- 4 Rimrock Knight
- 4 Vadrok, Apex of Thunder
- 2 Sprite Dragon
Haste is certainly powerful with mutate. Sadly, many of the red creatures, like Fervent Champion and Robber of the Rich, are Humans. Still, there’s enough synergy that I wanted to see what could happen here. Gingerbrute is an option as a one-drop but it’s not red for Runaway Steam-Kin, so I stuck with Fervent Champion.
Sprite Dragon is a great option, although the manabase isn’t perfect. There’s also a very limited amount of noncreature cards in this deck, so I didn’t want to flood on Sprite Dragons. This would be a deck where I’d be happy to run four copies of Warlord’s Fury or Crash Through.
I like the idea of Vadrok and Runaway Steam-Kin. It’s also a good way to pump the power on Dreadhorde Arcanist’s ability if we wanted to go that route. Being able to use Vadrok to keep Tibalt, Rakish Instigator on the battlefield is solid against green decks with Hydroid Krasis and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath.
Maybe there’s merit to a bigger red deck that utilizes Draven Mine as a creature generator to mutate onto.
You could also add Vadrok into your Rakdos Sacrifice deck with the Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger engine, allowing you to cast any Witch’s Ovens, Claim the Firstborns, and Tymaret Calls the Deads that might have ended up in your graveyard.
- 4 Lazav, the Multifarious
- 4 Mayhem Devil
- 4 Cauldron Familiar
- 2 Woe Strider
- 4 Mire Triton
- 4 Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger
- 4 Vadrok, Apex of Thunder
There’s not much to say here. We could splash white or blue for Vadrok but blue makes the most sense since we can add Lazav, the Multifarious for Kroxa shenanigans, plus we get some powerful sideboard cards. I shaved on Claim the Firstborn and Tymaret Calls the Dead, which might be a mistake. All the creatures seemed too good to cut!
My main concern with this deck is being able to return Arclight Phoenix in a quick enough fashion. You’ll probably have to sandbag your Opts and Merfolk Secretkeepers more than you would in a traditional Arclight Phoenix deck. You also might be looking at returning them on Turn 5 rather than Turn 3-4 but that should be fine.
Narcomoeba is a reasonable option in this deck but we’re a little light on a critical mass of cards that mill ourselves. Obviously, if Drowned Secrets is involved, life is great, but that won’t always be the case. I imagine you’d draw Narcomoeba more often than you’ll be putting it onto the battlefield with Merfolk Secretkeeper or Wall of Lost Thoughts. Still, it’s a free creature to mutate, so maybe it deserves a closer look. Maybe we shouldn’t have Arclight Phoenix at all.
Chart a Course would be a perfect card for this sort of deck, which makes me want to explore Vadrok in a format like Pioneer.
- 4 Pteramander
- 2 Dreadhorde Arcanist
- 1 Spectral Sailor
- 4 Brazen Borrower
- 4 Vadrok, Apex of Thunder
- 4 Sprite Dragon
The synergy between Dreadhorde Arcanist, Vadrok, and The Royal Scions is massive and it makes me happy that a deck like this can finally come together. I don’t think I’ve seen a deck that can cast as many Shocks or Opts as this deck can per game.
Winged Words isn’t Chart a Course but it’s all the same when Vadrok is mutating. Pteramander might be slightly weak in this deck but that’s something we can adjust if it becomes necessary. It’s another excellent card to mutate onto and is a cheap flier for Winged Words, Light Up the Stage, and The Royal Scions.
Is Sprite Dragon better than Brineborn Cutthroat? With Winged Words, I think so, although the evasion matters less if we have Vadrok to potentially give Brineborn Cutthroat flying. There’s also The Royal Scions to give trample.
As far as tempo decks are concerned, this one looks excellent and is something that could make waves in Standard given that the format is heavy on midrange decks.
So, what else is there?
Vadrok is also an Elemental, so there’s some synergy with Risen Reef and Omnath, Locus of the Roil. If you want to go deep, you could use it to return Lucky Clovers that get blown up or that you mill with Merfolk Secretkeeper. Maybe there’s an artifact shell with Emry, Lurker of the Loch that could use Vadrok as well. Are Honor the God-Pharaoh and Dreadhorde Invasion too bad to use? Amass is another mechanic that could work well.
You don’t even have to go as deep on extracting as much value from Vadrok’s mutate as I’ve done here. An aggressive deck with a few good targets and some expendable bodies would also make a fine home.
The possibilities seem endless, which is amazing for a card with a pile of limitations.