Last updated on July 22, 2023

Dream Eater - Illustration by Daarken

Dream Eater | Illustration by Daarken

Welcome back, and welcome to your nightmare! No, really, this is a nightmare matchmaking service: we’ve got all the best nightmares ready for your, er, enjoyment.

Why should you care about nightmare creatures? Is there a nightmare tribal build, and is it even good? Are there any nightmares you should be paying attention to for your Standard, Modern, and Commander decks?

Let’s dive into the history and viability of nightmare creatures in MTG and find out!

What Are Nightmares in MTG?

Lurrus of the Dream-Den - Illustration by Slawomir Maniak

Lurrus of the Dream-Den | Illustration by Slawomir Maniak

Nightmare is a creature type depicting evil and scary spirits or monsters created by human minds. Nightmare creatures come in all colors, but the majority are mono black or multicolored with black.

The first nightmare creature was Nightmare from Alpha in the 1990s. A very common mechanic (often named “the nightmare mechanic”) of nightmare creatures is removing a certain card or permanent when the nightmare ETBs and returning it to a hand or the battlefield when the nightmare leaves the battlefield.

Best White Nightmare

#1. Vitality Hunter

Vitality Hunter

There’s only one nightmare I want to highlight in white, but Vitality Hunter can be a decent play in eternal formats. This card fits into a deck that benefits from lifegain.

It’s a nice way to help grow creatures like Trelasarra, Moon Dancer, and do damage with creatures like Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose.

Best Blue Nightmares

#4. Wormfang Manta

Wormfang Manta

I think Wormfang Manta is a more interesting card rather than a good one. We can probably agree that taking an extra turn is often a game-winning strategy. But are you willing to sacrifice a turn to get an extra one later?

It’s an interesting conundrum that may be solved and used by some of the best MTG minds!

#3. Swimmer in Nightmares

Swimmer in Nightmares

Swimmer in Nightmares is a card to put in a deck specifically with an Ashiok planeswalker. It’s a decent addition if you’re trying a mill deck with Ashiok, Sculptor of Fears, or a Dimir () control deck with Ashiok, Nightmare Muse.

#2. Startled Awake / Persistent Nightmare

Startled Awake is a decent mill card that can be reused under the right circumstances. You can bring back Persistent Nightmare and return it to your hand for even more mill.

It’s a little clunky and inefficient mana wise as far as mill spells go, but I believe it’s a good mill card. Especially for singleton formats.

#1. Dream Eater

Dream Eater

There are a lot of things to love about Dream Eater. The first is the wonderful and nightmarish art on the card. The next is how easy and game-flipping this card is.

The flash speed, top decking ability, and returning an opponent’s permanent to their hand is a recipe for taking the board advantage. I love this card and think it’s a super valuable addition to blue and Dimir decks in non-Standard formats.

Best Black Nightmares

#12. Stallion of Ashmouth

Stallion of Ashmouth

Self-pump cards can be deadly efficient in games. The pump activations force your opponents to make decisions while you wait and play the exact combinations you need to.

Stallion of Ashmouth is a decent pump card that has some great value in Pauper.

#11. Mindleecher


A lot of creatures with the mutate ability also have the nightmare creature type. This makes sense since creatures mutating instantaneously would be nightmarish.

Mindleecher is a great card for mutate decks because it can give your creature flying and the ability to take and play one of your opponent’s great cards.

#10. Zagoth Mamba

Zagoth Mamba

Zagoth Mamba fits exclusively into the mutate-style deck made popular by Ikoria. You have a good chance to remove your opponent’s creatures for every mutation added onto it.

The mana value and removal ability makes this card a nice addition to mutate decks, but it has little value outside of those.

#9. Laquatus’s Champion

Laquatus's Champion

A lot of nightmare creatures have enter and exit the battlefield abilities, and they’re often linked (think a nightmare that exiles a permanent until it leaves). I don’t particularly like this ability, but Laquatus's Champion might be a nice game-ender.

It does six damage to a player when it ETBs, which may be enough to win and avoid giving that life back. The regenerate ability helps you to make sure that the player loses that six life.

#8. Faceless Butcher

Faceless Butcher

Of all the “nightmare mechanic” abilities, Faceless Butcher’s is probably the best. The removal acts just like many other enchantment and creature removal spells. You can remove a creature until it’s removed from the battlefield.

This is always a decent way of removal, but its creature type makes this susceptible to more removal spells itself.

#7. Angel of Suffering

Angel of Suffering

Angel of Suffering gives you the protection of not losing life because of damage, with the downside of milling cards equal to twice that damage. This doesn’t seem worth it unless your goal is to mill a lot of your own cards.

Graveyard cards like Vengeful Pharaoh and self-mill win cards like Thassa's Oracle and Syr Konrad, the Grim can benefit from this angel.

#6. Falthis, Shadowcat Familiar

Falthis, Shadowcat Familiar

Partner is a fun ability to have in your Commander builds. Falthis, Shadowcat Familiar is quite an unassuming commander, but you can have fun and partner it up with cards like Anara, Wolvid Familiar, Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder, or Ardenn, Intrepid Archaeologist.

#5. Nightmare


Nightmare is the original nightmare creature, and a clever play on words. This potentially massive creature is a solid play for mono black decks in almost every non-Standard format. Its size and flying ability make it a decent creature if you can navigate the high cost.

#4. Hunted Nightmare

Hunted Nightmare

Hunted Nightmare is a great card for aggro black decks. You get a 4/5 creature with menace for only three mana, and your only downside is giving an opponent the chance to give one of their creatures deathtouch.

This isn’t to be feared: the average aggro black deck has plenty of removal to counteract this downside.

#3. Dread Presence

Dread Presence

Cards that benefit from lands entering are extremely valuable in a lot of builds, and Dread Presence can use your Swamps for huge advantages. It allows you to load up on mana without the fear of mana flooding.

Cards like this smooth out your curve and make any draw valuable.

#2. Doom Whisperer

Doom Whisperer

Getting a 6/6 flying creature with trample for only five mana is good value itself. Add the ability to choose your upcoming cards and that creature becomes immensely valuable.

Doom Whisperer is a fantastic card for a lot of black and graveyard builds. The surveil ability is a nice way to get the cards you need to draw or the cards you need in your graveyard, and the two-life penalty shouldn’t be a problem with the amount of good lifegain in non-Standard formats.

#1. Braids, Arisen Nightmare

Braids, Arisen Nightmare

Braids, Arisen Nightmare is a superb card to put pressure on your opponents. You can sacrifice a permanent to force your opponent to sacrifice a similar permanent or let you have you a draw advantage every turn it’s on the battlefield.

You can pair this ability with expandable cards like Spirited Companion, or creature and artifact tokens. There are so many interactions to be had with Braids, Arisen Nightmare in all the fun and competitive formats (including Commander!)

Best Red Nightmares

#2. Petradon


Petradon is an expensive answer to the question, “how do I remove some of the key lands my opponent needs?”

You get a big creature that can pump itself and remove two key opponent lands for eight mana. It’s not that much of a payoff for your investment.

#1. Worldgorger Dragon

Worldgorger Dragon

A 7/7 flying creature with trample for six mana has some value on its face. Add in the effect of bouncing all your permanents and it’s that much better.

Worldgorger Dragon is a great addition to ETB decks, and especially landfall builds. It’s unfortunately only legal in eternal formats, which I think is a tragedy.

Best Multicolored Nightmares

#14. Labyrinth Raptor

Labyrinth Raptor

Menace is a keyword to make your creatures harder to block. Labyrinth Raptor takes that to another level by making an opponent sacrifice one of the blocking creatures.

The added pump ability for menace creatures makes it a must have for menace-style decks. Those aren’t very popular, true, but this card can pair well with other menace cards like Tentative Connection, Hunted Nightmare, and Tergrid, God of Fright.

#13. Otrimi, the Ever-Playful

Otrimi, the Ever-Playful

A downside of running a mutate deck is that you might run out of creatures to mutate if they’re removed or you don’t draw enough. Otrimi, the Ever-Playful is a great response to this problem in eternal formats.

It may be one of the better mutate commanders if you want to experiment with that build.

#12. Leyline Prowler

Leyline Prowler

Deathtouch and lifelink together are a nasty combat trick to use with cards like Ambuscade or Grim Contest.

Leyline Prowler is a nice mana producer with some great blocking abilities. The keywords and mana producing make it a decent addition to a lot of Golgari () decks in most non-Standard formats.

#11. Tayam, Luminous Enigma

Tayam, Luminous Enigma

Tayam, Luminous Enigma is a nice addition or commander for low-cost eternal decks. It gives your creatures a vigilance counter for attacking which you can remove later for a chance to sneak a great cheap card onto the battlefield.

There are plenty of good cards and builds for Tayam to excel in.

#10. Kathril, Aspect Warper

Kathril, Aspect Warper

Cards that can give you the keywords of creatures from your graveyard like Soulflayer, Eater of Virtue, and Kathril, Aspect Warper have great value and are just fun to play with. This is a great Commander card and a fun one to see how many keywords you can get into your graveyard.

#9. Silvar, Devourer of the Free

Silvar, Devourer of the Free

The partner mechanic gives you a great advantage to stabilize your game and strategy. Silvar, Devourer of the Free is a great card in a Commander deck full of ways to make Human tokens. Luck would have it that its partner, Trynn, Champion of Freedom, can make Human tokens each turn you attack.

These cards fit well into human/nonhuman combination decks alongside cards like Winota, Joiner of Forces.

#8. Nethroi, Apex of Death

Nethroi, Apex of Death

There are a lot of nightmare creatures with mutate, and Nethroi, Apex of Death is a great option if you want to develop a mutate deck. It can bring back plenty of creatures from the graveyard to the battlefield, and it has great keywords.

I believe Nethroi has some slight value outside of mutate decks thanks to these abilities, unlike most of the other mutate creatures.

#7. Snapdax, Apex of the Hunt

Snapdax, Apex of the Hunt

One last nightmare creature with mutate, I promise!

Snapdax, Apex of the Hunt is a great card in and outside of a mutate deck. It you can remove a lot of your opponent’s threats if you keep mutating. And it can act like a removal spell and give one of your nonhuman creatures double strike if you roster it in another deck.

#6. Zaxara, the Exemplary

Zaxara, the Exemplary

Zaxara, the Exemplary is the Commander- or Legacy-support for spells that have an X value cost. This card offers two mana of any one color and a Hydra token that’s as big as the X value you’re casting.

Have fun and grab your X value cards like Gadwick, the Wizened, Finale of Devastation, and Villainous Wealth.

#5. Umbris, Fear Manifest

Umbris, Fear Manifest

Umbris, Fear Manifest is the card to build a nightmare/horror Commander or tribal deck around. It has some great synergy with the exiling abilities a lot of nightmares have, and its ability lets you remove some of your opponent’s best cards from the top of their deck.

Good synergy, building power, and the chance to ruin your opponent’s strategy make Umbris a nightmare tribal must.

#4. Slitherwisp


You know I love flash! Slitherwisp is the premier card to take your flash deck to the next level. You can play all your cards at instant speed and draw cards to gain the advantage.

This is legal in most non-Standard formats and pairs well with cards like Brineborn Cutthroat, Brazen Borrower, and Sea-Dasher Octopus.

#3. Lurrus of the Dream-Den

Lurrus of the Dream-Den

Was anyone else as happy as I was when they nerfed the speed of companion cards? I was so sick of getting absolutely destroyed by Gyruda, Doom of Depths, Yorion, Sky Nomad, and Lurrus of the Dream-Den.

Lurrus is such a good card for aggressive decks, so much that it’s banned in a lot of formats. But fear not! It’s still legal in Vintage, Commander, and Historic if you want help from this aggressive cat nightmare.

#2. Fiend Artisan

Fiend Artisan

Fiend Artisan is a wonderful fetch creature card. There are so many things to like about this card. The flexible cost, the boost it gets after sacrificing a nontoken creature, and the fetching of the bomb creature you need.

This card would be unbearable if you could fetch at instant speed. It’s still a great card for Golgari decks.

#1. Ovika, Enigma Goliath

Ovika, Enigma Goliath

Let’s get some speculation about a new card from Phyrexia: All Will Be One.

Ovika, Enigma Goliath might be a The Locust God with some great self-protection. Gain control of the game, build your board presence with Phyrexian Goblin tokens, and march your way to victory!

Best Nightmare Payoffs

There are a lot of nightmare mutate creatures, so pair them with great mutate cards like Sea-Dasher Octopus, Gemrazer, and Auspicious Starrix to really lean into that strategy.

The main colors of nightmare creatures are black and blue. Pair them with great Dimir cards like Baleful Strix, Sygg, River Cutthroat, and Dimir Doppelganger to strengthen your colors.

Nightmares often work hand-in-hand with removal cards like Deadly Rollick, Snap, and Drown in the Loch.

Some cards that aren’t nightmare creatures but can help them include Chainer, Dementia Master, Kaheera, the Orphanguard, and Nightmare Shepherd.

I should also point out the nightmare planeswalker, Ashiok. My favorite renditions are Ashiok, Nightmare Muse, Ashiok, Sculptor of Fears, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, and even their followers like Ashiok's Adept.

And don’t forget supporting cards like Urza's Incubator, Elspeth's Nightmare, and Cabal Coffers for your Umbris, Fear Manifest Commander decks.

Wrap Up

Vitality Hunter - Illustration by Tomasz Jedruszek

Vitality Hunter | Illustration by Tomasz Jedruszek

Nightmares have some powerful cards that can fit into some of the most competitive decks. I believe MTG will continue to develop new nightmare creatures to display some nightmarish plot lines and add some powerful primarily-black creatures.

Writing this wasn’t a nightmare, but it needs to end just like one. How do you feel about these rankings? Which nightmares do you like to use in your decks? Let me know in the comments below or over on the Draftsim Twitter.

Stay safe, and keep grinding out those close wins!

Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates:

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *