Spark Double | Illustration by Eric Deschamps
Do you see what I see? Or are my eyes playing tricks on me? I knew I should have cleaned my glasses before leaving the house…
It’s no trick of the light, but we are talking illusions today. Maybe I should rewatch The Prestige to get ready for this. Illusions and real-world magic go hand in hand, but our favorite card game takes it to a whole new level. The illusions we’ll see today are a little scarier than some flash powder and a trap door.
Which illusions are the best in Magic? Which Illusion tokens are the best? Don’t be fooled by petty parlor tricks!
What Are Illusions in MTG?
Hover Barrier | Illustration by Mathias Kollros
Illusion is a creature type that’s used to represent incorporeal beings, often ones conjured from pure thought and will. Naturally blue is home to most illusions, but they also pop up in black and white.
There are 93 cards with the illusion subtype. Illusionary Presence and Illusionary Forces from Ice Age were the first cards with the illusion type, but they technically weren’t the first illusions. 2007’s Grand Creature Type Update merged mistfolk, entities, and phantasms under the illusion umbrella. As a result, Psionic Entity from Legends became one of the older illusions.
Flying is a common keyword found on illusions, as is shadow. A lot of them have to be sacrificed if they’re targeted by spells or abilities. Illusions can also come with abilities that affect gameplay, like how Wandering Eye makes the table play with their hands revealed.
Illusion tokens also exist, and they’re a lot more flexible than most tokens you know. A lot of common tokens, like Humans, Soldiers, Angels, etc. come with fairly standard stats and abilities. Not Illusions! Pretty much every source that can create Illusion tokens makes unique ones.
Not included in these rankings are noncreature cards that play around with illusions. Halcyon Glaze is an enchantment that turns into a 4/4 illusion when you cast creature spells (they don’t even have to hit the battlefield!), and Dance of the Skywise turns a creature you control into a 4/4 dragon illusion until end of turn.
Best White Illusions
#2. Lumbering Lightshield
Lumbering Lightshield makes an opponent’s spell harder to cast. It’s only legal in Historic, so EDH brewers look elsewhere.
#1. Teyo’s Lightshield
Teyo’s Lightshield isn’t much to write home about. An ETB effect that lets you put a +1/+1 counter on a creature you control is neat, but you won’t be killing much with this by itself.
Best Blue Illusions
If you’re reading this, that’s because Somnophore cracked the rankings by a combination of pity points and rabbit hole points. The pity points come from it not cracking the best tappers list. The rabbit hole points come from the fact that a second look at this card has taught me about horsemanship, and now you know about it too.
This sees play in about 9% of Sun Quan, Lord of Wu decks on EDHRec. Good for Somnophore, I guess?
#33. Mistform Sliver
Another in the “be thankful you weren’t cut” category. I’m including Mistform Sliver because I know sliver people love their slivers.
It’s here. Leave me alone.
#32. Wandering Eye
No rubbernecking needed; Wandering Eye makes sure you can see what everyone’s got brewing. As a stuff-disturber it has my trickster brain smirking. I can see why you’d include this in your Isperia the Inscrutable deck.
As a 2-drop that can go to the battlefield if you were supposed to mill it, Narcomoeba is a decent little card. But you’ll probably cut this if you’re focused on illusions.
#30. Dream Stalker
Another 2-drop, Dream Stalker is an illusion that helps enable repeated ETB triggers. It returns a permanent you control to its owner’s hand (why would you return a permanent you stole to an opponent’s hand?)
#29. Aether Figment
Aether Figment maxes out as an unblockable 3/3 creature that you cast for five. Nothing outstanding. A warm glass of milk.
#28. Phantasmal Abomination
Phantasmal Abomination is as its ephemeral name suggests. You’ll find that’s a pattern with everything that has “Phantasmal” in its name.
A 3-drop defender with 5/5 stats is fine considering its glass mortar status, but I wouldn’t want to be running too many Phantasmal creatures at once, y’know?
#27. Hover Barrier
Speaking of creatures with defender, Hover Barrier is something to keep an eye on. It’s fairly run-of-the-mill as an illusion. But as a defender, it’s a solid swinger.
Arcades, the Strategist can make use of it, but so can any deck that cares about creatures with high toughness.
#26. Dream Strix
The advantage that Dream Strix has over other illusions that you get to learn when it dies. An option, but inessential.
#25. Fathom Seer
Fun fact: “fathom” is a unit of measurement for the depth of water, now standardized to six feet. Gives a lil’ more meaning to “six feet under,” no?
Fathom Seer is a potential player for your morph and facedown strategies, but it’s not essential if you’re focused on illusions.
#24. Phantom Ninja
There are other basic 3-drop illusions that can’t be blocked, but Phantom Ninja gets points because of its typing. Being a ninja makes it useful in more than just illusion decks, and we like cards that can be used in more than one place.
#23. Phantasmal Bear
Clawing its way into the rankings is this 1-drop, Phantasmal Bear. It’s perfectly fine on curve for what it does.
You probably won’t use this much outside illusion tribal, but that’s okay. Something tells me this bear doesn’t care for the spotlight.
#22. Mistform Warchief
Cost-reduction abilities are always a welcome sight. Mistform Warchief is made for illusion decks, but you don’t really need its activated ability if that’s what you’re running. Although they didn’t all make the rankings, these Mistform cards from Legions pretty much all have these type-altering abilities, whether directed at themselves or at other creatures.
#21. Illusory Angel
Solid. Which is ironic for an illusion, isn’t it? *prepares tomato barrier*
I mean, a 4/4 flier with a casting condition for three sounds like what you’d expect for an uncommon. It’s fine, but don’t expect this Illusory Angel to watch over you.
#20. Mistform Mutant
Unlike the Warchief, Mistform Mutant sees more play in a deck other than illusions. Gor Muldrak, Amphinologist protects you from salamanders, so I can see why a type-changing ability that’s repeatable would be attractive there.
#19. Unblinking Bleb
This is partially here because I just wanted to make you read the word “bleb,” but it’s also a decent little card. You probably won’t use this if you’re focusing illusions since Unblinking Bleb is better suited to decks that deal with morph and other facedown mechanics.
#18. Mistform Ultimus
Mistform Ultimus is every creature type. Geez, pick a lane.
Hey, it’s a legend if you need that, or if you’re really starved for a deckbuilding challenge.
#17. Aura Thief
Ohmigosh, this card is so messing with my chakras.
Aura Thief is truly a disturber. It’s a dice roll depending on the decks you’re facing. Another Jack-of-Many-Trades type that doesn’t really have a special home.
#16. Draining Whelk
Something with Draining Whelk’s ETB ability needs flash, no bones about it. Yes, whelks are invertebrates. No, that wasn’t intentional.
Draining Whelk works more as a counterspell than anything else, but illusion decks won’t complain about that too much.
#15. Illusory Ambusher
This would be typed as a cat, wouldn’t it?
Illusory Ambusher does its job as something you can use to gain card advantage. Note the phrasing: absorb a massive hit and you’ll draw a mittful of cards. Good hunting, honey. Thanks for all the mice. I mean, cards.
#14. Phantasmal Dreadmaw
Yes, I went through a dino-obsessed phase as a child. No, that’s not affecting this scaly fella’s place in the rankings. Much.
Phantasmal Dreadmaw has the “target=sacrifice” downside that’s common on illusions, but I’ll take a 6/6 blue trampler with little hesitation.
I swear it’s not the dino thing.
#13. Jace’s Projection
Jace’s Projection gives you more ways to pump your Jace planeswalker if you’re running one. Otherwise it’s a solid illusion to run and have grow as you draw cards.
#12. Jace’s Mindseeker
That. That’s bait.
Jace’s Mindseeker comes with a milling ETB effect, which isn’t the best or worst. It’s a bit higher on the mana curve, so you might want other illusions if that’s your thing. Just want a flier with a milling ETB for that slot? This fish can do the trick.
Palinchron is one of those solid cards that doesn’t have much of a specialized home but is useful in a lot of different decks. Its ETB ability pretty much refunds you for casting it depending on how many lands you have tapped when it enters.
#10. Phantasmal Dragon
Phantasmal Dragon gains a few slots over Phantasmal Dreadmaw because there’s more demand for a dragon than a dinosaur. You know, fantasy creatures and all that.
#9. Jace’s Phantasm
You’re a blue deck. Do you think it’s all that hard to make Jace’s Phantasm a 5/5 1-drop? Neither did I.
Excuse me, do you have time to talk about time counters? Too bad. Chronozoa has all the time in the world.
This is a dragon, but it almost behaves like a hydra. It works just fine in a Chisei, Heart of Oceans deck because Chronozoa is just begging for you to use its counters to keep Chisei on the field.
#7. Phantom Steed
Now that’s what I call horsin’ around.Horse, Horsin’ Around
Phantom Steed is a faithful illusion, just as horses can be. You can pretty much have the creature you exile ride in on this when it attacks and disappear back into exile at the end of combat. You get your creature back if the Steed leaves the battlefield, so it’s not like your beater is lost.
#6. Krovikan Mist
Excuse me? Flier. 2-drop. Stats related to the number of illusions you have.
You pretty much can only use Krovikan Mist with illusion-focused decks, but it should give you decent value there.
#5. Phantasmal Image
This won’t be the only illusion with a copy ability on this list, but there’s a reason it’s ranked lower than the other. If you or an opponent target it, you have to sacrifice it. What did you expect from a 2-drop?
Don’t worry, Phantasmal Image is still a very good card to have around in your Minn and Sakashima of a Thousand Faces decks. And a bunch of other decks that could use a Xerox’d version of their Big Bad.
Gyruda, Doom of Depths sticks a tentacle out of the water quizzically, sensing an even-mana value permanent.
Card draw triggers. We like card draw triggers. More card draw triggers please. Definitely more playable without a Jace-specific ability.
Also, I don’t like the way Oneirophage is eying me. Moving on…
Ixidron is a disruptor the moment it hits the battlefield. It doesn’t flip anything back when it leaves, so good luck to opponents who got anything important flipped.
This is almost essential in any strategy that revolves around facedown creatures, but it’s also a solid chaos piece elsewhere.
#2. Toothy, Imaginary Friend
I like how Toothy, Imaginary Friend’s abilities play into each other. Every card you draw while Toothy is out also adds a card in the bank for later, as it were.
Toothy can be partnered with Pir, Imaginative Rascal, which is basically Hardened Scales on a body. Their deck is obviously counter-based, but Toothy can also work in other strategies. Toothy’s other home is in an illusion-based deck with Minn, Wily Illusionist.
#1. Spark Double
Spark Double plays into strategies that deal with copies and counters, but its four mana value really makes it accessible in a lot of strategies. It enters as a copy of either a creature or a planeswalker you control, with an extra counter depending on the permanent you copy. Any commander that can play it needs to ask itself if it would enjoy a 4-mana clone of itself. It won’t be on-curve for every deck, but watch out for all the others.
Spark Double also sees play both in solo Sakashima of a Thousand Faces decks, and ones that partner it with another commander. Think of the scariest, most horrifying creature or planeswalker you cast in blue or any colors that partner can access. Now imagine copying it, but slightly bigger, for four mana. S-tier illusion, hands down.
Gyruda pokes out another tentacle. So many delightful even-costed critters…
Best Black Illusions
#2. Phobian Phantasm
I’m quaking in my boots! The combination of flying and fear makes Phobian Phantasm a tougher creature to block, but you have to pay cumulative upkeep for it to stick around.
#1. Glaze Fiend
Artifact decks are just gonna love this guy.
Glaze Fiend is a 2-drop that buffs itself until end of turn when other artifacts enter the battlefield for you. Whether you’re playing artifact cards or generating artifact tokens, Glaze Fiend has the chance to put in some good work.
Best Multicolored Illusions
#3. Phantasmal Fiend
This ain’t it. You have activated abilities that let you mess around with Phantasmal Fiend’s stats, but I just don’t see much use for it anywhere.
#2. Illusory Demon
I mean, I guess this is a little better? Illusory Demon must be sacrificed when you cast a spell, not even one that targets it. So, um. Yeah?
I saw that it sees play in Jon Irenicus, Shattered One EDH decks, which… Okay, so you give this guy to your opponent and grant Illusory Demon the ability that it can’t be sacrificed. Gives me a headache.
One of my first mythics was Chromanticore, so I have a soft spot for things like this. You have to already be running five colors to make use of Cromat in EDH, but it’ll be a pain in your opponents’ rears. A lot of its activated abilities make it very evasive, and you can always buff it to make it that lil’ bit stronker.
Bonus: Best Illusion Token Generators
#12. Skyclave Apparition
I’m only putting Skyclave Apparition so low because it doesn’t generate a token for you. Flavor and mechanics-wise, I have respect for how it’s designed. Its ETB exiles an opponent’s creature with mana value four or less while its LTB gives that opponent an Illusion with stats that reflect that mana value.
I just think it’s neat. But considering most of our “good” cards do something with illusions that you control, this one’s a dud.
#11. Labyrinth Guardian
Look, even Minn, Wily Illusionist decks seldom run Labyrinth Guardian. It only shows up in this part of the rankings because it generates a token. The other token generators that are also illusions are good enough to be ranked there.
#10. Summoner’s Bane
Summoner’s Bane is pretty much an illusionist’s special counterspell. It costs a little more than Cancel and gives you an Illusion, but it’s a 2/2 without flying.
#9. Moonblade Shinobi
A token-generating trigger that activates when you deal combat damage to a player is great and all, but it would be better on a cheaper creature. Sure, you can use ninjutsu to bring Moonblade Shinobi out with the element of surprise, but I’m not sure how many times you’ll trigger the token generation.
Fine ninja, but the token gen is secondary.
#8. Mesmerizing Benthid
Mesmerizing Benthid’s ETB generates a pair of Illusion tokens that are ready to block and keep whatever they block tapped. The Benthid is also hexproof as long as you control an illusion, so there’s that.
This card has more of a home in decks that care about sea creatures (kraken, leviathans, octopuses, and serpents), but your Minn, Wily Illusionist deck could also make use of this.
#7. Jace, Cunning Castaway
You didn’t think you were going to read about illusions in Magic without running into Jace himself, did you? How naïve.
I wouldn’t hate Jace, Cunning Castaway’s -2 if the tokens had flying or didn’t have the “sac when targeted” trigger. You can’t buff these tokens unless it’s with non-targeting effects, and the rate of two loyalty counters to generate one isn’t eye-popping.
When you start having multiple copies of Jace, Cunning Castaway out after your ultimate, that’s a bit better. Still, that’s a lot of work to put in for Illusion tokens.
#6. Manaform Hellkite
Manaform Hellkite is one of the few “good” cards that doesn’t fit in with other illusions. That’s because it’s the only way to get illusions in red. Given that they’re dragons that are exiled at end of turn, the design and function certainly fit the color.
Manaform Hellkite is a solid option for your dragon deck, but you’re probably not running other illusions if you’re doing that.
#5. Inscription of Insight
I’m giving Inscription of Insight bonus points because I’m imagining casting this after you’ve removed your hand size limit. It’s expensive to kick and get all its effects, but I start salivating when I see X/X. It’s like the mystery box of stats.
A 10/10’s a 10/10, but the mystery box could be anything! It could even be a 10/10!@FamilyGuyQs
Mordenkainen’s tokens get a lot better if you can keep making them after you ultimate or if you have similar effects elsewhere. Those Dog Illusions also cost two loyalty to get out, like Jace’s tokens, but at least you can target them.
But be careful: your Dogs’ stats changes as you cast and draw cards. Maybe don’t go emptying your hand, eh?
#3. Meloku the Clouded Mirror
You’re telling me I can trade my lands for flying Illusion tokens? Sign me up!
Meloku the Clouded Mirror has a lot of different homes in EDH. Cards that let you play an extra land per turn or otherwise pull lands from your hand can make its ability virtually free. Have Patron of the Moon, Kodama of the East Tree, or Aesi, Tyrant of Gyre Strait bring that back out with their abilities and you’re laughing.
#2. Minn, Wily Illusionist
Minn, Wily Illusionist is your commander if you’re running illusions. This card generates Illusion tokens when you draw your second (but only your second) card each turn. Minn’s Illusion tokens also have stronger power depending on your total number of illusions, so combining that with the death trigger that Minn gives them incentivizes you to stick other illusions in your Minn deck.
#1. Murmuring Mystic
In terms of Illusion-token generation, it’s hard to beat Murmuring Mystic. Every instant and sorcery you cast comes with a Bird Illusion, and you don’t need to be specializing in illusions to make this work.
Octavia, Living Thesis has a spell trigger too. Imagine… the spells you cast this turn change last turn’s tokens into 8/8s, and they retain flying. Heh.
Best Illusion Payoffs
Minn, Wily Illusionist
If you’ve got a thing for illusions, Minn, Wily Illusionist is your best bet as a commander. Well, it’s also your only bet (sorry, Meloku).
Most of the illusions here are going to be useful to Minn, unless they have another specified home. Those token generators can also be a big help.
I mean, if you’re building around Jace, why not use as many of his illusions as you can? Jace’s Projection should help you get ahead on loyalty, so there’s that.
Illusions in general fit with Jace thematically, if not mechanically, so they wouldn’t be bad placeholders while you’re waiting to upgrade.
Was It All… a Mirage?
Meloku the Clouded Mirror | Illustration by Scott M. Fischer
Take a moment to get your bearings. The illusions are gone; what you see is real.
As a tribe, illusions have had all kinds of incarnations over the years. Their early showings as Mistforms mostly don’t hold up to today’s meta, but there’s always someone out there trying to conjure something from nothing.
What do you think of my rankings? Which illusions are your favorite to stick in non-illusion decks? Do you hope to see any other illusion-enabling commanders in the future? Let me know in the comments below or over on the official Draftsim Twitter.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to step away from screens and go make sure the grass is real. Bye!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: