Last updated on January 20, 2023
Chaos Warp | Illustration by Trevor Claxton
The ‘chaos’ deck archetype is somewhat unique to multiplayer games of Magic. These decks are built with the goal not to necessarily win as quickly as possible, but to create as confusing or complex of a board state as possible. This archetype may be used by the pilot specifically to disrupt powerful opponents by adding elements of chance and unpredictability to the game, which their own deck is better able to navigate, or may simply seek to create unexpected and unique board states that rarely exist in other games of Magic. Chaos cards are found most commonly in the color red.EDHREC
This description is appropriately broad because chaos decks come in many different sub-flavors. While my focus today is more on individual chaos staples than the decks themselves I’d be remiss not to mention the kinds of chaos decks you might run into.
Let’s get into it!
Okaun, Eye of Chaos | Illustration by Yongjae Choi
Coin flipping is about as random as it gets, so it appeals to a certain kind of player who enjoys the instability that comes with building a deck around 50/50s. These decks can take on a number of forms, but they likely share certain staples and play patterns. Be sure to practice your coin flipping before you play any of these, because resolving flips quickly is key to keeping your pod’s sanity.
There are a surprising number of commanders that can helm a coin flip deck. Yusri, Fortune’s Flame, Zndrsplt, Eye of Wisdom and Okaun, Eye of Chaos, Krark, the Thumbless and Sakashima of a Thousand Faces, and Rakdos, the Showstopper are some of the more effective ones.
Dice-rolling decks are another approach you could take in the grand pursuit of chaos. But dice rolling seems to have both weaker support cards and less effective commanders when compared to coin flipping.
Your only options for die roll commanders are Farideh, Devil’s Chosen, Vrondiss, Rage of Ancients, and Wyll, Blade of Frontiers. The upcoming Unfinity set has a couple options too, but just about all of them are weak uncommon Draft fodder.
Vrondiss is definitely the strongest commander of the three, but it has the least support for building around die rolling (and a bunch of other compelling themes). Farideh relies on a narrow cast of d20 cards but has just enough support to make an okay deck.
Izzet () Wyll is a viable alternative to Farideh with something like Sword Coast Sailor or Clan Crafter. Both decks will certainly be playing similar cards, like Netherese Puzzle-Ward, Vexing Puzzlebox, and Barbarian Class.
Cascade is probably the spikiest approach you could take to building a chaos deck. You definitely get a lot of chaos with a cascade deck, but you’re also building around a very powerful mechanic. Cascade can create a lot of extra card advantage and board presence in a hurry, and it has a pretty decent support cast to boot.
Top-notch commanders for a cascade deck are Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder, Faldorn, Dread Wolf Herald, Maelstrom Wanderer, and Averna, the Chaos Bloom. Yidris is my favorite of the four because it’s not only quite powerful but gives you access to more cascade cards than other options.
But I’d still want all three of the others in my Yidris deck. Faldorn and Averna both have great cascade synergy, and Wanderer is just a fantastic EDH card in general.
Just about any red commander can helm a chaos deck if you’d like them to. Your deck’s chaos theme can found more in card choices that I’ll be covering below if you aren’t leaning into any of the above themes.
Some popular commanders for chaos that don’t fit any of the above three categories are Neera, Wild Mage, Norin the Wary, and Zurzoth, Chaos Rider. Norin in particular was the subject of a fantastic guide written over a decade ago by Gaka of MTG Salvation.
Mind’s Dilation | Illustration by Iain McCaig
I want to touch on a key concept that all chaos players need to be aware of before we get into chaos cards. Namely, chaos decks are decks built around dragging-out games.
This gets especially noticeable if you play cards that grind games to an awkward screeching halt like Warp World and Thieves’ Auction. You may enjoy this style of play and game state, but three strangers at your LGS may not.
While building a chaos deck could be a fun and rewarding experience, it’s maybe one best taken alongside friends. A playgroup of friends has pre-established rapport between its players that usually lets people get away with more shenanigans,so showing up with a bunch of silly effects that derail games would be much less likely to end with someone picking up their cards and leaving in a huff!
I’m tired of opening Chaotic Transformation in Draft where it’s useless, so I figured I’d give it a shout-out here for some karma. This is the latest chaos flipper of sorts that acts as a multi-targeted Chaos Warp.
The cards you target are restricted to flipping over replacements of the same type. There’s notable flexibility to this card because you can target any player’s stuff and potentially upgrade your 1/1s or Food tokens into real cardboard.
#22. Grip of Chaos
Another card with chaos in the name! Grip of Chaos is expensive, but random targeting can stop any kind of spot removal, including enchantment removal targeting this. It’s yet another wacky red enchantment that your opponents want to remove.
#21. Confusion in the Ranks
Confusion in the Ranks is a trolly enchantment that’s the star of that Norin the Wary list I mentioned earlier. It’s particularly gross with Norin but seems playable in just about anything with tokens.
Actually doing this in person leads to a lot of players touching each other’s cards.
#20. Wheel Effects
Wheel effects like Wheel of Fortune, Reforge the Soul, Memory Jar, and Wheel of Misfortune can be a vital part of non-chaos decks (i.e., Nekusar, the Mindrazer), but they also mess with the game enough that I’m willing to call them chaos cards. They’re particularly good for base red decks that find themselves behind on cards since you can refill while messing with your opponents.
Wheel of Misfortune is my favorite of the four for its neat damage subgame.
#19. Starke of Rath
Starke of Rath is a neat creature that spreads some “love” (a.k.a., targeted removal) around your table for you. Using it gives it to whoever’s stuff you ended up blowing up.
Will your opponent return the favor and continue to choose violence, or is there a player in your pod with enough discipline to hang onto Starke for more than one turn cycle? That remains to be seen!
Free extra turns anyone? Timesifter is a huge headache to play with because it pumps out extra turns like no card I’ve ever seen. You can break this effect in something like Neera, Wild Mage by having a bunch of scry effects and expensive spells, but even then it could still easily backfire and kill you.
#17. Planar Chaos
Planar Chaos has chaos in the name so it has to make the list, right?
Naming conventions aside, this card does all the game-slowing nonsense you’d want while also playing off any “coin flip matters” cards you have. Your table definitely hates you for this one, particularly if you have it with Krark’s Thumb.
#16. Mind’s Dilation
Mind’s Dilation is another generally powerful card that has just enough chaos to it to make this list. Randomly casting spells off the top of your opponent’s libraries is a powerful effect similar to what Etali, Primal Storm offers on the attack.
Resolving this dramatically slows down the game!
#15. Etali, Primal Storm
Etali, Primal Storm is powerful both as a commander and a member of the 99. Unlike most chaos cards I’ve listed, Etali is just a plain good card that also happens to shake the game up a bit.
Giving Etali haste is highly recommended so that you can immediately spike some powerful hits off your opponent’s libraries.
#14. Neera, Wild Mage
It only affects you, only works once per turn, and just casts the first nonland permanent it can instead of waiting for a type match. It also has a “may” trigger, so you aren’t even forced to use its ability if you don’t want to.
Neera is a powerful commander that plays well with fatties, huge spells, and lots of scry/library manipulation to set up big hits.
#13. Possibility Storm
Possibility Storm is a signature card in Neera, Wild Mage decks, but also just a good card for generally messing with your table. It has a lot of text, but all it really does is replace whatever spell players cast with the next spell that shares a type with it on top of their library.
This obviously causes a great deal of issues for your table and can also be built around by including incredibly expensive spells to hit.
#12. Eye of the Storm
Eye of the Storm is a bizarre card known for its combos with Summoner’s Pact-style cards for eclectic kills. You’ll likely have more trouble pulling that off in mana-dense EDH, so this is much more about causing shenanigans for the table.
An active Eye that sits in play for a couple of turns every instant and sorcery cast into 5+ spells in one.
#11. Tibalt’s Trickery
Tibalt’s Trickery is a neat counterspell of sorts with a touch of Chaos Warp to it. You can stop whatever you need to with this, but your opponent could end up better off for it just like with Chaos Warp and Wild Magic Surge.
#10. Perplexing Chimera
But giving the Chimera away doesn’t end the subgame. Its controller can do the same thing you just did! This isn’t so much a build-around as it is a way to mess with the table.
Stranglehold is a top-notch hate card that can seriously derail your opponent’s attempts to stop you from slowing down the game. It’s one of the better shuffle hate cards available. It also stuffs that cheeky Time Stretch player from your pod into a locker, where they belong.
Expect lots of pleading and begging, and possibly a Shatter effect plus some attacks coming your way. Serves you right for playing this one!
#7. Sire of Insanity
You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a blue player dump a full grip to this!
#6. Scrambleverse + Warp World + Thieves’ Auction + Whims of the Fates
This is a non-exhaustive list of a very particular class of cards, best known for the audible groans that often accompany them. Scrambleverse, Warp World, Thieves’ Auction, and Whims of the Fates all follow a similar template: they’re expensive red sorceries that ruin each player’s day to random degrees.
There are few ways to break the symmetry of these cards, so you’re usually just #yoloing it and hoping your favorite player pulls out ahead.
Gamble is a cheap tutor that puts you down a card and might just discard the very card you tutored for. There are of course some fantastic ways to play this and have it be genuinely powerful, mostly involving graveyard synergy or “I win” combos.
But for decks with a chaos theme, half the appeal of Gamble is tutoring the card you needed and randomly losing it!
#4. Blood Moon + Magus of the Moon
Sigh. I mean, I did say this was about slowing down games, and nothing slows down games like leaving four players with hands of uncastable spells.
EDH mana bases tend to be full of dual lands, making Blood Moon even more brutal than it is in formats like Modern and Legacy. Magus of the Moon is similar but much more killable, and also easier to tutor for.
#3. Wild Ricochet
Wild Ricochet is the red Dismiss of sorts, albeit in a weird, narrow, red sort of way. There’s no greater feeling than Ricocheting some busted card like Casualties of War and just upending someone’s entire game.
#2. Wild Magic Surge
Played fairly its primary use is in answering big or expensive threats and hoping to flip over rubbish. The unreliability of this card gives it obvious appeal for chaos decks since you might end up leaving your opponent better off than they were before you cast it.
#1. Chaos Warp
Chaos Warp is the single most played chaos card in EDH, as well as one of the most played red cards in general. It’s certainly a chaos card by nature, but its chief function is to be broad and efficient removal with a wildly inconsistent drawback.
This card has a nice touch of potential schadenfreude to it because it’s pretty fun to play with both when it works and when it screws your table.
Magus of the Moon | Illustration by Milivoj Ceran
And with that, you should now have a better understanding of causing chaos in your local EDH games. It’s not my favorite theme but maybe you’ll have more fun with it. Either way, I enjoyed writing about it and researching some fringe EDH cards I’d never heard of.
What’s your favorite chaos card? Have you ever built a chaos deck before, and if so, how did it go? Let me know in the comments below or over in the Draftsim Discord.