Last updated on September 19, 2023
Dimir House Guard | Illustration by John Zeleznik
Ever had that feeling that your Commander decks are just too budget to compete? They’ve all got better mana rocks, maybe, or some broken nonsense like Smothering Tithe or an OP commander or two. And they’ve got a lot of tutors to find them all.
What if I told you that you could get a decent tutoring suite in Dimir () for budget prices?
Transmute is the secret to getting your tutor game on from all the way back in Ravnica: City of Guilds. Make no mistake, these are far less powerful tutors than the greats, like Vampiric Tutor or Mystical Tutor, but you can get in the ballpark for the same casting cost as Grim Tutor.
Let’s see how this mechanic ticks!
Grozoth | Illustration by Cyril Van Der Haegen
Transmute is an activated ability that allows you to discard the card and pay some form of (currently) three Dimir mana to search your library for a card with the same mana value as the discarded card.
Transmute first appeared on 13 cards in 2005’s Ravnica: City of Guilds and on one more in Future Sight in 2007. That’s it.
With a Storm Scale rating of 9, transmute is unlikely to see the light of day again anytime soon. Mark Rosewater suggests that whole mechanics built on tutoring are bad for the variability of the game.
No, transmute is an activated ability.
No, transmute isn’t a spell.
No, all transmute cards have the rules text ”play only as a sorcery.”
Transmute uses the stack, so you can respond to it with instant-speed spells and effects. To stop the transmute you’d need a spell like Voidslime that can counter activated abilities, or a spell like Discontinuity that ends the turn while voiding the stack.
Yes, you can transmute for a land depending on the card. Tolaria West can only tutor up cards that cost zero, and a land counts for that. Other transmute cards can pull up MDFCs. Agadeem's Awakening, for example, has a mana value of three, so you could transmute a card like Perplex to fetch it up.
Yes, you can copy transmute. Cards like Rings of Brighthearth can copy activated abilities like cycling and transmute, so the Rings let you tutor up two cards. And you can tutor up two different cards as long as they meet the mana value restriction since the Rings allow you to change the targets of the abilities.
Tolaria West can tutor up anything that costs zero mana. So that includes other utility lands, utility artifacts like Chalice of the Void and Tormod's Crypt, X cost creatures like Endless One. Zero-cost spells like Pact of Negation and even no mana suspend spells like Glimpse of Tomorrow.
That’s a lot of options for Commander.
A 3-mana tutor with limited targets is too slow for just about any other format, but there are folks who rock it in Amulet Titan builds in Modern to find Summoner's Pact, Tron players who use it to grab those coveted Urza lands, and even Living End decks to grab their namesake cards.
- Clutch of the Undercity
- Dimir House Guard
- Dimir Infiltrator
- Dimir Machinations
- Dizzy Spell
- Drift of Phantasms
- Ethereal Usher
- Muddle the Mixture
- Netherborn Phalanx
- Shred Memory
- Tolaria West
These cards are really only as valuable as the cards they can fetch since none of them are really all that playable for their face cost. All of them are playable given that criteria, but some have a bit more utility than others.
Grozoth can find some really expensive stuff when it enters the battlefield if you’re in a reanimator shell. How do you cast it all? Good question.
But if you’re in Izzet () you should know that this can transmute for your Blasphemous Act. The broken stuff at nine mana you want is costly already (see Expropriate), so why not already have better tutors if that’s your Commander vibe?
I’m sure you can list your own favorites. Being able to immediately cast a cheap tutor target is especially nice.
Perplex gets less valuable as a counter the more graveyard decks proliferate in EDH, but having a weak counter you can convert into a Teferi, Time Raveler, a Flawless Maneuver, or so many other powerful things when it no longer serves is great.
A tutor you can use as a counterspell is pretty flexible. Muddle the Mixture is in a lot of Commander decks because 2-mana cards are often exactly what you need in various situations, so the fact that this isn’t Demonic Tutor is okay.
Tolaria West works in a few Modern decks like Amulet Titan, and in EDH it’s a pretty common tutor. You can see why.
The fail case for it is a blue tap land, but the upside of being able to discard it to find another land or a control piece in decks that recur lands is pretty awesome.
Yes, transmute is good. As far as tutors go, these are undiscovered gems you can pick up for a pretty reasonable cost. The trick is to figure out your tutoring purpose.
If you just need an extra copy of a winning card, adding a transmute card as a supplement to your more expensive tutor suite is a decent way to get it out of your giant Commander deck.
If you’re playing a flexible deck looking for a toolbox of answers, grabbing all three transmute cards at two or three mana value and then sifting your deck to prioritize those mana costs when there are choices to be made for certain slots is a good way to get more of what you want in your hand.
These aren’t as powerful as cards like Grim Tutor, but it seems like these transmute cards are just too old and obscure for most players. They’re likely a good buy in a deck with some black or blue, especially if you’re on a budget.
Dimir Infiltrator | Illustration by James Nelson
We’re likely not going to see this budget-friendly mechanic again since a set mechanic that tutors is probably pretty miserable for a format, but the cards that exist are there for intrepid Commander players to grab.
What are your favorite targets for transmuting tutors, budget brewers? Let me know in the comments below or over on the Draftsim Twitter.
Enjoy the new-to-you (maybe?) toys and happy brewing!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: