Last updated on February 18, 2024
Roil Elemental | Illustration by Raymond Swanland
Don’t be alarmed. I might look like Timothy, Draftsim writer, father of one, Mt. Dew enthusiast, but I’m not in control right now. My mind is being manipulated by forces unseen. I intended to write about the best trilobites in Magic, but I’m being coerced to talk about mind control effects. Ironic, right?
I’m told that we’re doing the best mind controls today. Effects that bend the minds of your opponents to your will and let you yell “yoink!” as you attack them with their own creatures. Something I surely never would’ve written were I in my right mind.
What Are Mind Control Effects in MTG?
Order of Succession | Illustration by Magali Villeneuve
“Mind controls” give you permanent control of something on the battlefield you don’t own. They pick up a card on the opposite side and move it to yours.
I’m excluding “Threatens” that steal creatures but return them at the end of the turn. Mind controls are permanent or persist as long as the effect remains in play. This only includes cards that shift control of cards on the battlefield, so no reanimation effects either.
I’m also ignoring effects that regain control of something you already own, so don’t expect cards like Homeward Path. “Exchange” cards are totally up for grabs though, so Switcheroo variants are fair game.
The term mind control refers to the M10 card Mind Control, even though Control Magic is strictly better and has existed since Alpha. Some players call these effects “control magics,” but it’s the exact same thing.
#44. Debt of Loyalty
Nobody expects the white mind controls. The timing on Debt of Loyalty is tricky, but it gets style points for being relatively unknown. Double-check the oracle text on this one! You only gain control of the creature if it actually regenerates. Can you even imagine if it worked as printed?
#43. Vedalken Plotter
Vedalken Plotter is a personal pet card. It answers problematic lands without having to play straight-up land destruction, and it sometimes swaps a basic you control for a bounce land. On second thought, that’s essentially the same as destroying a land. Oh well.
#42. Order of Succession
Order of Succession is at home in decks with low creature counts. You’ll still get a creature in the chosen direction, but you won’t have anything to lose. It’s more chaotic than most control magics, but it’s more about form over function.
#41. Keiga, the Tide Star
Keiga, the Tide Star’s not winning any awards, but it’s surprising how effectively expensive cards like this can fend off attacks. No one wants to give up their best creature to remove it. 6-drops take discretion these days, but you could do worse than Keiga.
#40. Admiral Beckett Brass
Admiral Beckett Brass is only as good as the rest of your pirate crew. Thankfully pirates often come with built-in evasion to help push past blockers, and the lord effect certainly helps. Siren Stormtamer, Malcolm, Keen-Eyed Navigator, and Kitesail Freebooter are cheap pirates that make Beckett Brass easier to manage.
#39. Roil Elemental
Mind control on a landfall trigger is unreal, but a 3/2 flier for six is unreal in a completely different sense. Roil Elemental has an incredible ability and a horrendous body, but that’s called balance baby!
#38. Piper of the Swarm
Black is secondary to blue for permanent mind controls, and Piper of the Swarm showcases the hoops you have to jump through to get an effect that blue just has to pay four mana for. It’s too slow anyway outside a dedicated rat deck.
#37. Perplexing Chimera
Nobody wants to be the first one to blink and get their spell stolen by Perplexing Chimera. The tradeoff is that an opponent gains control of the Chimera and poses the same problem for you. Homeward Path is your solution, allowing you to steal noncreature spells and then regain control of the Chimera.
#36. Hellkite Tyrant
I’ve seen Hellkite Tyrant’s alternate win-con happen exactly once throughout my entire Magic career. It’s a fun dream to chase, but the real power is just snatching artifacts from people when it connects. You don’t need the full 20: a few signets and Sol Rings will do.
#35. Elrond of the White Council
Elrond of the White Council doesn’t have the best execution of secret council. It should be easily predictable what everyone’s voting for based on the boardstate, and the mind control effect is only taking small creatures. Thankfully they get pumped up by anyone who couldn’t afford to vote fellowship. Even if you use Illusion of Choice to force a fellowship vote from everyone, your opponents still choose which creatures you get.
With some maneuvering, Nihiloor can borrow up to one creature from each opponent. A triple mind control is powerful, but it turns the entire table against you, so Nihiloor’s not long for the world. The second ability rewards you for attacking with stolen creatures, perhaps taken by other mind controls.
I’m still waiting on my “Touchdown!” and “Yo, Pass Me the Pigskin!” cards, but Fumble will do for now. It’s a neat take on a bounce spell that punishes aura/equipment decks, which are already soft to interaction.
#32. Captivating Vampire
Magic often uses mind control effects to represent vampirism. Bite someone and they become a vampire. Makes sense. Captivating Vampire needs help from a few other bloodsuckers to get going. Each creature it recruits becomes a vampire that makes it easier to snatch additional creatures, pumping them all up in the process.
#31. Inniaz, the Gale Force
Inniaz, the Gale Force is a flying-matters commander with an unexpected payoff. Gale Force One plays a little game of switcheroo with players’ permanents when you attack with enough fliers, giving you full control over what gets moved around. It’s strange and intriguing, one of many cool original designs from Jumpstart.
#30. Rags // Riches
Letting your opponent choose what you get is significantly worse, but you can engineer situations where they’re only left with one worthwhile creature anyway. That’s what Rags // Riches tries to do: clear off the fodder and take the leftover good stuff. Unfortunately, your opponents get some prep time between both halves of the spell.
#29. Corrupted Conscience
Mind Control, but with infect! I could see running Corrupted Conscience over Control Magic if you’re already gunning for the poison kill. It’s otherwise inefficient by comparison. It is satisfying to land on an oversized creature and turn it into a brainwashed Blightsteel Colossus.
#28. Olivia Voldaren
Captivating Vampire may have come first, but Olivia Voldaren perfected the art of vampire recruitment. It’s mana-intensive by today’s standards, but I don’t want to undersell a repeatable ping ability for just two mana. That adds up, sniping down small creatures and setting up big creatures for the steal.
#27. Merieke Ri Berit
Merieke Ri Berit taps to take creatures, but unlike Rubinia Soulsinger, you don’t have the choice to untap it each turn. You’ll want some Twiddle or blink effects to maximize this card, though the 3-mana 1/1 body leaves much to be desired.
#26. Souvenir Snatcher
#25. Sower of Temptation & Friends
This slot goes out to all the mind controls attached to bodies. Sower of Temptation was an early version, but we’ve since seen Rangers of Ithilien, Vodalian Mindsinger, and Mind Flayer. Some have stipulations, and the ones without are usually undersized creatures. But they all play out similarly: usually solid, but they leave your mind control effect vulnerable to creature removal.
#24. Control Magic
Control Magic was the prototype for this entire list, and it holds up. It set the standard for mind controls, and most variants at this cost have some sort of stipulation or downside.
Treachery is literal Mind Control with Peregrine Drake’s ETB tacked on. It’s virtually free if you stick it, and it lets you hold mana up after stealing an opponent’s creature. You don’t get to untap if the target gets removed before it resolves, so it’s unwise to run this out into open mana.
#22. Subjugate the Hobbits
It’s hard to evaluate Subjugate the Hobbits having not played it yet. It might be a touch too expensive, but I’ve played Mob Rule enough to know that you sometimes want the little creatures. Let me know how it’s played out in the comments.
#21. Aura Thief
Aura Thief might do nothing, or it might ruin a player’s entire game. It’s matchup-dependent, but think about how often people rely on enchantments to set up their engines. Even if you grab an Anointed Procession with no way to use it, you’re at least denying your opponent access to it. Pack a few sac outlets to pull off Aura Thief’s trigger on a whim.
#20. Aminatou, the Fateshifter
Aminatou, the Fateshifter is more of a weird Scrambleverse effect, but it results in you controlling someone else’s permanents. It’s mostly used for its flicker potential or for topdeck manipulation, but the -6 is good fun when it happens.
#19. New Blood
New Blood requires having a vampire in play already, but it changes the typal text on the target to play well with other vamps. It’s ideal in a vampire-themed deck, but I’d consider it for any vampire commander, since you’ll always have access to at least one every game. The coolest thing I’ve seen New Blood do is steal a Poppet Stitcher to start creating 2/2 decayed vampire tokens.
#18. Sakashima’s Will
Here’s another “give me whatever” effect with the added twist that you can turn your creatures into copies of the stolen creature until end of turn. Possibly devastating, possibly a complete dud. You can always just use it for the Mirrorweave mode by itself.
#17. Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools
#16. Fealty to the Realm
The creature enchanted by Fealty to the Realm shifts control alongside The Monarch, amplifying the volatility of the mechanic. At the very least the enchanted creature can’t attack you, so you’re free to enchant the biggest, baddest creature on board.
#15. Sudden Substitution
The idea behind Sudden Substitution is to cast a cheap, meaningless spell and swap it for the best creature on board. Or give someone a worthless creature in exchange for a big, splashy spell. It’s tricky, but split second means it trumps nearly everything else. This was a clever addition to the Faceless Menace precon, since morph abilities can be activated in response to split second spells.
#14. Dragonlord Silumgar
Sower of Temptation, but bigger and scarier. Dragonlord Silumgar gets bonus points for snatching up planeswalkers. I also love the easter egg of Silumgar wearing Tasigur, the Golden Fang as a piece of jewelry.
#13. Oko, Thief of Crowns
Oko, Thief of Crowns is no doubt a powerful planeswalker, but it’s not a particularly strong mind control effect. It’s still pretty messed up when you elk someone’s commander, but Oko’s less obnoxious when three people can beat up on it at once. Still great, but Oko’s infamy is mostly tied to 1v1 formats.
Willbreaker usually dies right away, but actively dominates the game if left unchecked. Anything that targets turns into a mind control, kind of like a Dack Fayden emblem that works with abilities too. Derevi, Empyrial Tactician, Hinata, Dawn-Crowned, and Thassa, Deep-Dwelling are a few popular commanders to pair with Willbreaker.
#11. Mass Manipulation
#10. Kiora Bests the Sea God
I imagine Kiora showed up on Thassa’s doorstep and said, “What’s Kraken Thassa? It’s time to die!”
The mind control on this saga is delayed by a turn, but chapters one and three are equally powerful, making this reasonable in Commander and putting it on the shortlist of best Limited rares of all time.
#9. Blue Sun’s Twilight
Blue Sun's Twilight is a strict upgrade to Entrancing Melody. At 7+ mana this twilight spell copies the target, making it a full-on 3-for-1. You can even target your own creature to turn this into a clone effect.
#8. Vedalken Shackles
I’m letting you in on some secret tech here, so don’t say I never did anything for you. Vedalken Shackles is amazing in any deck with a high Island count, not just basics. Any deck that’s comfortable running Mystic Sanctuary has a suitable mana base for Shackles. It threatens activations mid-combat to stop attackers, steals creatures to chump block with, or even “borrows” utility creatures with the intentions of giving them right back.
#7. Blatant Thievery
What an appropriately named card. Blatant Thievery says “gimme that, gimme that, oh, and gimme that too.” It makes the entire table angry at you, so you’d better hope the permanents you’re blatantly stealing are worth it.
#6. Dack Fayden
I’ve created the Dack Fayden emblem multiple times just to realize I didn’t really have any spells that worked well with it. Turns out most targeting spells you play in Commander just remove the target altogether. You could rework your deck to play better with the emblem, but the artifact-stealing ability is already a good start. I expect nothing less from The Greatest Thief in the Multiverse.
#5. Empress Galina
Empress Galina has always been good, just relatively obscure and difficult to obtain. It feels like everything is legendary now, so Galina should have no shortage of permanents to take. Lands aren’t even safe considering how many awesome legendary land cycles have entered the format. Galina’s also apparently left-handed? That’s cool, I guess.
#4. Thieving Skydiver
Don’t let the equipment text distract you: Thieving Skydiver is phenomenal. It can steal any artifact, and if it happens to be an equipment you get a free auto-equip. Lightning Greaves is nice and all, but have you ever taken someone’s mana rock on turn three?
#3. Gilded Drake
Gilded Drake is the coolest mind control I can’t afford. Pushing over $200 (gee, thanks Reserved List!), Drake is a 2-drop that Switcheroos itself with another creature. The drawback of giving your opponent a 3/3 flier probably matters in Constructed formats, but it’s less of a problem in Commander (see: Swan Song).
#2. Agent of Treachery
Even as a 7-drop, Agent of Treachery is a force to be reckoned with. Unlike Sower of Temptation & co., Agent plays for keeps with an ability that persists even if it leaves the battlefield. It can grab anything, and being an ETB sets it up for all the usual flicker shenanigans.
That draw trigger isn’t just flavor text either. Make a few copies of Agent and all of them trigger during your end step. Agent contributed to the Winota, Joiner of Forces ban in Pioneer and it’s an extremely tilting mind control to play against in EDH.
When do I get to write about the most hated cards in Magic? Because surely Expropriate is somewhere at the top of that list. It’s the bane of many Magic players, often resulting in multiple lengthy extra turns, and it preys on players who don’t rationalize the possible outcomes well (never vote for time folks!). Even when players vote “correctly,” this bundles up Blatant Thievery and Time Walk into one card.
It’s the golden standard for 9-drops. Why cast a different 9+ mana spell when you can just cast Expropriate and probably win anyway? It’s often cited as justification for unbanning Biorhythm and Coalition Victory, slightly cheaper cards that are arguably less reliable win-cons.
It’s at the very least another reason to plug the easter egg list; there’s a lot of fun stuff hidden in the artwork!
Best Mind Control Payoffs
Mind controls are usually natural 2-for-1s. They remove a permanent from the opponent’s side of the field and add one to yours, so they’re inherent card advantage.
You can use mind controls as part of a steal-and-sac deck, where you take an opponent’s creature and feed it to a sacrifice effect. This usually works best with Threatens to circumvent giving the creature back, but it’s a fine strategy for repeatable mind control effects.
What if You Bounce a Creature That an Opponent Took Control Over?
Creatures always return to their owner’s hand regardless of who controlled it on the battlefield. If your opponent controls your creature and you Unsummon it, it returns to your hand.
Unless otherwise stated, creatures always return to the battlefield under their owner’s control. That’s the default, but some blink effects specify whose control the creature returns under.
Cloudshift specifically returns the creature to the battlefield “under your control,” so the creature always enters under the control of the player who cast Cloudshift, where it’s no longer associated with the mind control effect that originally took it.
What if You Gain Control of an Equipped Creature?
If you gain control of an equipped creature, the equipment is still attached, but you don’t control the equipment itself. You still get the benefits until its controller moves the equipment to another creature. You can’t move the equipment yourself since it’s not technically on your side of the battlefield.
Does a Creature Leave or Re-Enter the Battlefield When You Gain Control of It?
Switching control of a creature doesn’t cause it to leave or re-enter the battlefield. If you cast Control Magic on a creature I control, it simply moves to your side of the field. It doesn’t “leave” my side, and it doesn’t “enter” your side, so ETBs don’t happen.
Does Taking Control of a Creature Give It Summoning Sickness?
Creatures have summoning sickness when switching control to a different player. Summoning sickness applies to any creature that you haven’t controlled continuously since the start of the turn.
This is why effects like Act of Treason almost always grant haste to allow the creature to attack before it returns to its owner’s control. Blue mind controls rarely grant haste, so the stolen creature is unable to attack the turn it switches controllers.
When You Gain Control of a Creature Do You Get Its Enchantments?
Auras remain attached to a creature you gain control of, but you don’t control the aura. They still affect that creature even through control of the auras doesn’t change.
The exception is auras that specifically enchant a permanent “you control.” For example, Cartouche of Knowledge has “enchant creature you control.” If you take control of a creature with this Cartouche on it, it falls off since your opponent still controls the aura but no longer controls the enchanted creature.
What About Its Counters, Does It Keep Them?
Changing control of a creature doesn’t affect its counters. As long as the creature doesn’t leave the battlefield, those counters remain intact as the creature shifts controllers.
Can You Gain Control of a Creature You Already Control?
Control effects can usually target a creature you already control. You can cast Control Magic on your own creature, though it won’t really do anything. It won’t stop someone else from taking your creature with a different mind control later since these effects usually overwrite previous ones (something about “timestamps”).
Threatens are the main reason to do this. Since they usually untap the target and give them haste, you can use them on your own creature to get them out from underneath a tap effect or just give them temporary haste.
Can You Sacrifice an Opponent’s Creature You Control?
You can sacrifice anything that’s on your side of the battlefield regardless of who owns it. Some might say your opponents’ creatures are the best sacrifices, forming the entire crux of steal-and-sac decks.
Mind Telling Me What Just Happened?
Expropriate | Illustration by Zack Stella
Well that was a bizarre experience. It seems that the powers that be made me write about nearly 50 mind control variants in Magic. And what was that a football joke up there? Truly something I’d never write of my own volition. Thankfully I’m finally free of whatever was controlling my mind. Or am I…?
Tell me about your experiences with mind control effects, out-of-body or otherwise. And where do you land on the “mind control” vs “control magic” debate? Let me know in the comments below or over in the Draftsim Discord.
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