Last updated on March 8, 2023
Sakashima’s Protege | Illustration by Tyler Walpole
Shapeshifters have been part of many cultures’ myths since their beginnings. There’s just something powerful and scary about creatures that change form. Magic’s beginnings are significantly more recent but there were still shapeshifters in its origins back in Alpha.
This is a tricky, ever-changing set of creatures by design, so let’s see if we can figure them out for the Commander players out there. Let’s dive right in!
What Are Shapeshifters in MTG?
Brightling | Illustration by Steve Argyle
The first shapeshifters showed up in Alpha: Clone and Vesuvan Doppelganger. Their names are a hint; shapeshifters copy something else. They were originally just creatures, but this ability expanded to other permanents over the years.
The next type of shapeshifter had a malleable form. It showed up in Revised on Primal Clay and allowed the caster to choose one of three different vanilla forms. Although the early versions of this effect couldn’t be changed, shifts in form after the initial casting as triggered and activated abilities showed up pretty quickly as Magic evolved. The third form of shapeshifters arrived in Lorwyn with changelings, which have every creature type.
Ranking these shapeshifters across these categories is a bit like comparing apples to oranges to, I dunno, asparagus. But since shapeshifters in Magic shift across these three types and mix and match attributes as is thematically appropriate, such an evaluation is needed. So let’s take a look at the best shapeshifters across all of Magic.
Best White Shapeshifters
White isn’t super deep here, but this color is a must-include for “tribal tribal” decks because some of these cards are very important. What the heck is “tribal tribal?” Good question. Read on.
This is the bomb you need to tutor up in “tribal tribal” Commander decks. Tribal tribal decks are filled with changelings and cards that give tribal bonuses, like Magda, Brazen Outlaw for dwarves or Risen Reef for elementals. The tough part is balancing the tribal bonus cards with the changeling foot soldiers. If you can reliably get Entity out it helps you to put more of the fun stuff in the deck and fewer understated changelings.
This is also a wincon in +1/+1 counters decks that often stack tokens on 1/1 creatures. This can come down, activate, and make for a powerful attack by buffing the weenies wearing the counters. It can also net you some insane combo wins but I’ll cover that a bit further down.
Shields of Velis Vel
Here you have the same effect on an instant, which increases the ease of tutoring. Mirror Entity can be tutored up with creatures like Skyshroud Poacher that looks for an elf. So can Shields of Velis Vel.
Lorwyn created “tribal instants,” which act like elves or goblins or whatnot in decks and hands and graveyards. This means spells like this can be tutored as instants or tribal creatures which really increases the number of tutors you can run in a creature-heavy deck.
Brightling is part of a multi-decade “Xling” cycle of shapeshifters with four activated abilities, and it’s a welcome entry. Bouncing it back to your hand isn’t as elegant as some of the other protection abilities on the Xlings, but it plays nicely with board wipes. This is a useful piece if you have a flicker deck built to take advantage of that kind of thing.
Crib Swap is another tribal instant, this time as removal.
Valiant Changeling is the Magic equivalent of “if there are four apples and you take three, how many apples do you have?” If you have any other changeling on the battlefield when you cast this it’s a 3/3 double striker for . That’s not a bad rate in changeling tribal.
The answer, by the way, is that you have three apples.
A flying vanilla changeling that’s a bit below rate, I know. But cards that care about tribal things, birds for Keeper of the Nine Gales, or spirits for Rattlechains can end up in Azorius () decks together even though they mostly have cards that care about flying like Lofty Denial. Avian Changeling takes advantage of that.
Irregular Cohort is a reasonable enough rate and both creatures trigger Welcoming Vampire or Thalia’s Lieutenant in their respective tribal decks.
Impostor of the Sixth Pride
Impostor of the Sixth Pride is probably not strictly playable in any deck but cat tribal. There are better changelings to use on rate and stats, but this one looks like a cat. And I’d say you value things other than winning if you’re playing cat tribal.
There are a lot cheaper and faster ways to get a kind of flicker effect, but maybe you need Changeling Hero’s effect on a body that fits your tribe?
There are 10 white shapeshifters. Someone’s gotta be last.
Probably every other card in every color on this list is better than Changeling Sentinel, but there aren’t a lot of options if you need white changelings. So, Rin and Seri, Inseparable players who don’t have access to blue and black, this is your beastie.
Best Blue Shapeshifters
The shapeshifter OG, most of blue’s shapeshifters are clone effects. There are blue 45 Commander-legal changelings, the worst of which is the abysmal Jodah’s Avenger, so let’s just grab the top 10.
Flexible in and against tribal decks, Amoeboid Changeling shines as a combo piece. The most fun is turning Reckless Fireweaver into a pirate to drop an artifact or attack with Malcolm, Keen-Eyed Navigator on the battlefield for infinite damage.
How about to pairing it with Spirit Mirror and Thornbite Staff to kill all the creatures?
I’m sure you can figure out how to use it with Sliver Overlord on your own.
Sakashima’s Protege is the best of the clone cards, which include variants from Body Double to Wall of Stolen Identity. It’s a more expensive Clever Impersonator but the addition of flash and cascade really puts it over the top. These two cards are the ultimate in cloning since you can choose enchantments or planeswalkers to copy on top of the creatures (and sometimes artifacts) most of the clones can mimic.
A Mirror Image that’s also a modal double-faced card (MDFC) that can drop as the tap land on the back, Glasspool Mimic is flexible enough for a lot of formats.
Shadow Kin shipped with the Undead Unleashed Commander precon, and it can be ridiculous. The self-mill is good for graveyard decks, but this card is also great against opposing graveyard decks.
The flash means it comes down to snipe a card from a graveyard in an emergency, like right after your opponent casts Reanimate on it. Or you can drop Kin on the last end step before your upkeep to grab the offending card, exile it, and copy it for yourself. It won’t have the Eldrazi casting triggers or any enter-the-battlefield triggers that a reanimation spell would net you, but you can grab your or someone else’s Phyrexian Dreadnought without a second thought.
And if you’re trying to make mill work in Commander you beautiful, bizarre thing, you probably need to add this to your 99 since it mills everyone.
Orvar, the All-Form
I know Orvar, the All-Form is really hard to use. But you’ll probably have some fun even if you just stack a deck with bounce spells and creatures with righteous ETBs like Mulldrifter or Archaeomancer.
If this card was as good as it seems when you first read it someone would have figured out how to use it effectively in Standard. Alas, maybe this is just a dream. Maybe this shouldn’t be #4 on my blue list. Or maybe someone someday we’ll (again!?) return to Ravnica and see something we might call “Feather, Spirit Warrior” in Jeskai colors and I’ll be vindicated!!
A brutal finisher in Standard after it dropped in Dragon’s Maze, Aetherling dodges bullets with its self-blink. Making this thing unblockable is death to opposing planeswalkers. It’s too mana-expensive for eternal formats and probably also for your Commander deck, but it’s just as hard to kill as it’s always been if you’re in a slow and durdly Commander meta.
Another dominant force in Constructed formats of its day, Morphling is no joke. This is more vulnerable to board wipes and sacrifice edicts in Commander than Aetherling, but you probably can’t stop with just one if you wanna play these Xlings.
Having to attack with a 1/1 to thwart someone’s Worldly Tutor or whatever bomb their Oracle of Mul Daya revealed isn’t easy or efficient, and Shadow Kin is just better than Nascent Metamorph. But this is the kind of thing that can easily find itself unblockable in the right deck.
I love Nascent in my Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive deck. You clone the card for a bit and then drop it on the bottom of their library, which is useful. If you like chaotic decks that can cast blue this is pretty automatic.
Does anyone still run ally tribal? If you do, you need to run Jwari Shapeshifter. But this is so cheap for what it does even if you’re just running a lot of changelings.
Okay, I’ll admit that Riptide Shapeshifter is mostly a meme, but how do you not put it in your Volo, Guide to Monsters decks?
Best Black Shapeshifters
There’s not a lot here and most aren’t great. Who would willingly play Cairn Wanderer?
The most recent Xling card. You came for the zombie creature type but you’ll stay for the undying as it creates all sorts of broken combos, most notably when you use two undying creatures with Yawgmoth, Thran Physician. You have to drop one mana each time around the combo wheel with Endling, though. But this might be welcome in your sac combo decks since there are only, like, a half dozen other creatures with undying in black.
As tutor-able as a creature removal spell. Nameless Inversion ends up in more goblin and elf decks than you’d think.
A strictly better Gravedigger? Okay, I can use Graveshifter.
Does Changeling Outcast go in Golgari () squirrel tribal in case Toski, Bearer of Secrets gets down? See, I’m really digging here in black. This looks nothing like a squirrel. Maybe you should pop back up and reread blue?
Deathtouch is good. But Venomous Changeling isn’t snaky-looking enough to go in a gorgons deck. If you really need deathtouch-y rogues or ninjas, here you go.
Best Red Shapeshifters
Red is the official filler color for shapeshifters. There are only three playables.
Torchling is resilient to spells with that Deflection ability. But the real money is on the untap ability, which can get you infinite combos with Paradise Mantle and any card that increases the mana it makes, like Leyline of Abundance or Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy.
Champion a creature lets you get an ETB again and Changeling Berserker is hasty, so that’s cool. I guess.
This will get big in a Commander game with spellslinger opponents. But I’ll bet they probably have some bounce spells, too. You know how it goes. You all watch this slowly tick up and some blue mage with an open blue is just smiling too big right before the attack step.
Best Green Shapeshifters
Kaldheim added a few here, but still most in this color lack punch. Here’s the top five.
Getting rid of artifacts and enchantments isn’t trivial in Commander, and having that on an easily tutor-able creature really matters.
Realmwalker is a pretty good accelerator in tribal decks of any sort, and for a decent cost.
Thornling is the last of the Xlings. Being able to toggle on indestructible is good. Otherwise green has a lot of big hasty tramplers.
Protection from black. Pumpable. If you have enough mana that feels like indestructible.
Champion a creature lets you get an ETB again and this is big, so that’s cool. I guess.
Best Multicolor Shapeshifters
There are a lot of hybrid mana common shapeshifters, but their only purpose is to excite you when you open the shoebox of boomer cards to build your changeling tribal deck and realize none of them are changelings. They’re a really long-term troll from Magic R&D. Check out Battlegate Mimic if you doubt me.
But there are a few decent multicolor shapeshifters. Let’s grab the top six.
Unsettled Mariner is a pretty easy include in your taxes deck, hanging out with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and its entourage of archons. It’s also in the running for the best nonlegendary changeling.
Dack’s Duplicate is the only clone with haste. That’s kind of neat, right?
There’s a pile of these clones in various colors pairs that are vaguely on-theme for their colors, like Evil Twin or Progenitor Mimic. But I’m not really here for these since they always have a pip of blue and there are better alternatives that are easier to cast if you’re in the market for blue clones.
Lazav, Dimir Mastermind
Lazav, Dimir Mastermind is a sneaky little gem. Creatures die or are sacrificed all the time on a Commander table, especially opposing commanders. And you know you want this out when someone drops Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. This doesn’t net you ETB or death triggers and can’t grab things that are milled, though, so there are limits here.
Cemetery Puca is easier to cast than Lazav but a bit harder to use. Both are useful.
Lazav, the Multifarious
Lazav, the Multifarious is lovely with Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger in the ‘yard. Also Blighted Agent. Copying something unblockable and then turning Lazav into Phage the Untouchable is living your best janky life, isn’t it? #yolo
Volrath, the Shapestealer
Volrath, the Shapestealer is your shapeshifter commander if you choose boomer Rath cycle flavor nostalgia over the new hotness we’ll meet in a minute, but this seems like it’s asking for a lot to work the way you want it to. I’m sure fellow shapeshifter Woodlurker Mimic goes in this deck if you build it.
But I think you only build this to find a way to tell everyone your stories about what the Rath cycle felt like after giving up the game for a year when you failed to pull Autumn Willow from any of your Homelands boosters. So maybe just chill on this?
Best Colorless Shapeshifters
There’s the hero shapeshifter players deserve in this list and I should call Maskwood Nexus out here if you’re looking to build a deck, but most colorless shapeshifters aren’t worth it. Urza’s Avenger had banding, though, so checkmate, Commander tablemates!
Let’s look at the top five.
Morophon, the Boundless
Now allow me to introduce you to your host, loping in from an unknown plane, the perfect changeling commander and the reason you’ve all been summoned here tonight: Morophon, the Boundless!
Universal Automaton is useful for any tribal deck that also cares about artifacts on top of being the easiest-to-cast changeling for your tribal tribal decks.
Duplicant is often better than flickering Meteor Golem, which is a thing we do sometimes.
The second easiest changeling to cast, and you’ll likely be adding a lot of counters to Bloodline Pretender in the kinds of decks I’m talking about here.
(Sort of) on point for any nascent egg tribal decks out there looking to fill out a theme? Clone Shell is an inefficient and slow colorless alternative to Collected Company.
Maybe that’s good enough, sometimes? Until your opponent bounces or exiles this and you lose the card it grabbed, that is.
Best Shapeshifter Payoffs
In addition to Morophon, the Boundless, there are quite a few fun commanders to play in this space.
Reaper King and a bunch of changelings is just as fun as you think it’ll be if your table is slow enough for that to work.
There’s also The Ur-Dragon or Tiamat. Dragon tribal effects with cards cheaper to cast than all those 4-drop dragons are neato, and the commanders here just let you move through your deck so nicely.
There are weird options I’ve seen here, and tribal tribal decks with commanders that don’t always fit with the elf- or goblin- or whatever-matters cards in the 99 are interesting. Look, this is the politics part of Commander. If you shelled out a hundred bucks for that Edgar Markov and your meta told you to stop playing with its OP self, being able to say you sleeved it up for a deck with literally zero actual vampires in it is a moment.
Filling Out Underserved Tribal Decks
There are less than 40 scarecrows, bears, dryads, squirrels, octopi, kirin, and frogs. Sometimes you need the changelings just to be able to try to play your deck on-theme.
Tazri, Beacon of Unity players, you know who you are.
You can try other party options, like Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate or Zagras, Thief of Heartbeats. The party from Zendikar Rising rewards you for having a full house with a cleric, rogue, warrior, and wizard. Changelings help with that.
I Know You Are, But What Am I? Tribal
Okay, this is where the real party is. Why would you play a whole deck of creatures that just copy other creatures? Because you can.
There’s enough in blue that you can roll tide with a Sakashima of a Thousand Faces deck and join the, well, dozens of players doing this. This is guaranteed to be the meme-iest deck at the table. If that’s worth something to you, you heard it here first.
Are Shapeshifters Good?
It depends on how you define “good.” Aside from changelings, which offer a lot of flexibility in tribal decks, shapeshifters are a bit of a mixed bag.
The Xling cycle of cards, like Aetherling, can be powerful, but they’re a bit expensive to cast. The clone cards have some utility for chaos or disruption, especially the ones that copy things from the graveyard. Even more so if they exile the target when they do it.
Shapeshifters vs. Changelings
All changelings are shapeshifters, but a lot of shapeshifters aren’t changelings. “Changeling” is a characteristic-defining ability that has to appear in the rules text box for a shapeshifter to be a changeling. Without that they’re just kind of their own squishy tribe of beings that can often change form but never enough to, say, become an elf or a human or something.
Is Shapeshifter a Creature Type?
Shapeshifter is a creature type just like goblin or warrior. And shapeshifters can have multiple creature types, like Glasspool Mimic which is a shapeshifter rogue.
Is a Shapeshifter Legendary?
Shapeshifters aren’t inherently legendary. Some are legendary creatures, but not many. Shapeshifters that copy other creatures also copy the legendary supertype of the target.
The two Lazav cards and Moritte of the Frost make whatever they copy legendary, even if the original wasn’t. Cards like Spark Double can make nonlegendary copies of legendary things, but that card is an illusion, not a shapeshifter.
Are Shapeshifters Enchantments? Artifact Creatures?
Shapeshifters aren’t usually enchantments or artifact creatures. The “artifact” and “enchantment” in “artifact creature” and “enchantment creature” are types, not subtypes, and subtypes are the things that changelings copy.
So changelings aren’t just artifact or enchantment creatures when they’re in your hand or library or unmodified on the battlefield. Some cloning shapeshifters, like Clever Impersonator, can copy noncreatures, so that card might enter the battlefield as an artifact or enchantment, or even a planeswalker.
Does a Shapeshifter Count as a Full Party?
A “normal” shapeshifter counts only as a shapeshifter, so those never get invited to parties. Very sad for them, really.
A shapeshifter with changeling counts as all creature types but the party mechanic counts the number of creatures you have as well as the types of creatures, so one changeling isn’t enough. You’d need four, assuming you’re trying to get a full party with none of the actual creatures the mechanic checks for.
Endling | Illustration by Livia Prima
The fact that there are a lot of different kinds of shapeshifters makes these creatures more complex than most. And given their literal and figurative malleability, even down to their Magic mechanics, they can be a bit daunting to play with. But there’s a lot of creativity with all that complexity, and these creatures provide a unique set of options for the deckbuilder.
What’s your favorite shapeshifter? Did I miss any that you think should be here, or on the flip side, did I list an undeserving shifter? Let me know in the comments down below.
That’s all from me for now. Stay safe, stay healthy, and wash your hands!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: