The Jeskai Mutate Combo deck took the Strixhaven Championship by storm, proving to be by far the best performing widely played deck, and has seen something of a rise in play since. Picking up the deck after getting soundly beaten by Tristan Wylde-LaRue playing it during the tournament, I’ve spent hours working on it both for my own tournaments and to help friends prepare.
While the deck is incredibly hard to play, I’ve put together a useful set of resources to ease you into playing this beautifully complicated monstrosity near-optimally. I should warn you in advance that this isn’t a Standard deck breakdown with a list, game plan and sideboard guide. Instead, the focus of this article is going to be on making sure you can correctly play the deck and execute its various combos where possible. If that’s what you’re looking for, then this article will hopefully help you become an excellent pilot of the best deck in Standard!
In essence, Jeskai Mutate’s primary game plan is to put a Goldspan Dragon into play. The deck has card advantage and interaction for the early game, all of which serve primarily to find Goldspan Dragon and keep you alive to cast it. Once you resolve a Goldspan Dragon, the deck does a pretty good job of protecting it, with some combination of counterspells for removal and Unsubstantiate to return it to hand in response to removal. After a turn or two of attacking with Goldspan Dragon, you’ll often find yourself able to combo kill, and how and when you can do this is the primary focus of this piece and detailed later.
In the games where you don’t combo, you primarily win just by protecting the Dragon and out-grinding your opponent, with mutators and Mazemind Tome post-board allowing you to play an excellent value game. These two modes of play really sum up a majority of how the deck plays out, so with that, I’m going to move on to assorted tips for playing the deck that might not be immediately obvious, followed by a sample list, and then moving on to the various combos in the deck.
- Against decks with counterspells, Prismari Command gives you the opportunity to punish them for tapping out on turn three, as you can make a Treasure with it at end of turn and then untap and cast Goldspan.
- Post-board, this deck plays as among the best Mazemind Tome control decks. You have a lot of instant speed cards, can recur Tomes that get countered or destroyed with Vadrok, Apex of Thunder, have plenty of counterspells to draw into and can destroy opposing Tomes with Prismari Command.
- While tunnel-visioning on a combo kill is an obvious pitfall to avoid, ruling one out entirely is similarly dangerous, as even in matchups where you don’t often get the chance to win that way, it will come up every once in a while.
- In grindy matchups, two copies of Lore Drakkis combined with an Unsubstantiate are an expensive way to regrow a spell every few turns.
- Unsubstantiate, Sejiri Shelter and Light of Hope are all pieces of protection that, when played in response to a removal spell on your Goldspan Dragon, are mana-positive, allowing you to more easily win a fight over keeping your Dragon alive.
- Unsubstantiate can be used to target your own Goldspan on the stack to save it from a counterspell.
Standard Jeskai Mutate by Arya Karamchandani
The list above is one I played to Top 8 in a few small online tournaments, and is not particularly noteworthy. The deck has been updated to deal with a metagame that’s adapting to mutate, with more protection spells for Redcap Melee and more Prismari Commands to allow for earlier Goldspan Dragons under counterspells, without needing to tap out first.
That said, the specifics of mutate lists will depend in part on the playstyle of the player, as how proactively you like to play will likely influence the list you want to play. I would recommend checking out a few different playstyles in videos where the deck is played (you can find these by checking out VODs of tournaments and different streamers who have played the deck, several should have them available, myself included). Regardless of the style of deck, the following combos should be present in some form or other, and executing them when you can is essential to optimally piloting the deck.
There are several different loops in the mutate deck, and below I’m going to go over some of the more common of them. That said, there are always going to be more combos that aren’t covered by the article that come up in niche cases, so I’m going to start by going through the tools and heuristics I use to determine whether something is an infinite loop, and if it’s not infinite, how much mana you’re going to be spending every iteration of the loop. That way, even if you have a set of motions you go through for most of the standard loops, you can figure out on the fly if a new combination of cards you have assembled is actually infinite.
The base principle of a loop is this: mutate onto a Goldspan Dragon some number of times, then cast Unsubstantiate on your Goldspan Dragon, returning it and all creatures mutated under it to your hand.
To have a loop that is positive, you should be generating at least five additional mana in between your first mutation on Goldspan Dragon and Unsubstantiate resolving. Making sure you hit this mark allows you to generate enough mana to recast your Dragon and repeat the loop.
In addition to generating five mana, for a loop to be actually useful, you should be generating something else as well: a sixth or more mana for infinite mana, damage to your opponent for infinite damage or cards drawn to find infinite damage or mana. Given this, here’s a list of the amount of mana everything costs or generates as part of a loop. This takes into consideration the two mana generated by making a Treasure by targeting your Goldspan Dragon.
Cast off a Vadrok trigger
- First Prismari Command: +4 mana (dealing your Dragon damage for an extra Treasure)
- Subsequent Commands +2 mana (with exceptions where you sometimes get more, like loop 1)
- Spikefield Hazard: + 2 mana
- Seize the Spoils: + 2 mana
- Unsubstantiate: +2 mana (but only once, and at the end of the chain)
Cast from Hand (Likely Returned by Drakkis)
- First Prismari Command: +1 mana
- Subsequent Commands -1 mana
- Spikefield Hazard: + 1 mana
- Seize the Spoils: -1 mana
- Unsubstantiate: +0 mana (but only once, and at the end of the chain)
Arena Comboing Tips
- Make sure you turn off auto stacking of abilities, and always make sure to order abilities such that your Vadrok trigger resolves last (it should be at the bottom of the stack) if you’ll be dealing your Goldspan Dragon lethal damage with it.
- To save time, disable gameplay warnings. This prevents a warning popping up and taking precious time when you target your Dragon with the damage on Prismari Command.
- Hold full control when targeting a Goldspan Dragon with a lethal Prismari Command and bouncing it in response.
- Sacrifice your Treasures for two mana each before an Unsubstantiate resolves and puts your Goldspan Dragon in hand.
Now that we’ve got all of that out of the way, on to the fun stuff – the flowcharts and the equations! A quick aside before we dive in – all these combos assume you have a Goldspan in play already, and all the loops require you have four mana to start with.
Loop 1: The Classic (1 Vadrok 1 Drakkis)
Description/Notes: This is the easiest to assemble and most complicated to execute of the loops. It’s one I don’t find myself attempting too often, as I’m slow at clicking things and will time out on Arena attempting it a lot of the time. The loop consists of two sub-loops: loop 1a and 1b (flowcharts below). Loop 1a generates one mana per iteration. Loop 1b leaves you at -1 mana per iteration, but does two damage to your opponent.
Given an opponent with X life (rounding up if an odd number), to win, you need to do loop 1a (x/2)-2 times, followed by loop 1b (x/2)-2 times, leaving your opponent at four life. Finally, mutate Vadrok on Goldspan Dragon, recasting Prismari Command and doing two damage to your opponent, and then mutate Lore Drakkis on the Dragon, again recasting Command with the Vadrok trigger to deal your opponent the final two damage.
For example, if your opponent is at 14 life, you need to do both loop 1a and 1b (14/2)-2=5 times, dealing your opponent 10 damage, and then using the final go-around to deal them the last four damage. A handy trick when trying to go through the combo quicker is that every mana you have when starting out beyond the initial four lets you do one fewer iteration of loop 1a. So in the above example, if you had six mana to start rather than four, you could get away with three iterations of loop 1a rather than five.
I would strongly recommend practicing this particular combo before trying it in a tournament, it’s hard to execute quickly, and is often near-impossible to get through within the rope’s limits.
Loop 2: Oops All Vadroks (3 Vadroks)
Description/Notes: Comboing with three or more mutators (and at least one Vadrok) is far simpler than two, with each iteration putting you up both on mana and doing damage/drawing cards.
This loop does require a third spell, but all that spell needs to do is generate a single Treasure, so anything that targets Dragon or makes a Treasure will do the trick. You could even replace the Prismari Command in this loop with a Seize the Spoils if needed, and it would work fine, drawing you all the cards you need to find a Command. I want to quickly note how much quicker these three-mutator combos are than the classic variant; while the classic combo would require 65 spells in a turn to kill an opponent at 14, this one would only require 23, and sometimes even less!
Loop 3: Modified Classic (2 Vadrok, 1 Drakkis)
Description/Notes: You can execute this combo exactly like loop 1a, simply mutating a second Vadrok after the first to deal two to an opponent with a Prismari Command and make a Treasure. This would yield a loop that does two damage per iteration and nets one mana. However, given how much of your deck either generates Treasure or targets Dragon, you’ll likely be able to execute the loop below instead, which is far quicker.
Loop 4: Drakkisopodes (2 Drakkis, 1 Vadrok)
Description/Notes: One of the easier combos to mess up, be sure note to accidentally return your Prismari Command to hand!
Loop 5: Not Infinite (2 Vadrok)
Description/Notes: Often overlooked because it isn’t infinite, two Vadroks also give you a loop similar to loop 1b that allows you to turn leftover mana into damage. If you have mana beyond the initial four required to start any loop, you can do 2x+4 damage to your opponent. So with seven mana available and a Goldspan Dragon in play, for example, you could do 10 damage. To do this, start with performing loop five times, which will leave you with exactly four mana and a Dragon in play. After this, repeat the loop one last time, but instead of targeting your Dragon with the damage on your first Command, target your opponent to deal them an extra two damage.
This loop can also be used to draw towards something that is actually infinite, rather than just dealing damage. By replacing the two damage to opponent mode on Prismari Command in the penultimate step with the draw two, discard two mode, you can instead turn any mana past your fourth into two cards of digging deeper toward finding a third mutator to go infinite.
That’s it for this piece. As I mentioned earlier, this is a rather unconventional piece with no sideboard guide or anything of the sort, not least because playstyle and exact list will play a big part in that. However, with this combo Deep Dive, you should have all the tools you need to be an excellent pilot of what is currently the best deck in Standard!