Lorthos, the Tidemaker | Illustration by Kekai Kotaki
I’d like to be
Under the sea
In an octopus’s garden
-The Beatles (Ringo Starr), 1969
I’m going to set the comments on fire early and say that Octopus’s Garden is one of my favorite Beatles songs. Unironically.
The octopus is really a fascinating creature. It’s an invertebrate, and it’s so dang smart. The way some species can not only change color but also change texture is a great camouflage trick, especially when you’re really squishy and there are some hungry, pesky dolphins around.
Octopuses in Magic have found a nice home with other deep-dwelling creatures, but which is the best of the bunch? They’re all here for your browsing pleasure, but keep in mind that this is a card market, not a sushi bar.
Although those with shellfish allergies should still bring their EpiPen.
Godhunter Octopus | Illustration by Tyler Jacobson
Octopus is a creature type that’s mostly found in blue. The first one was Giant Octopus in Portal. There are cards that create Octopus tokens, and others that pay you off for playing octopuses, among others.
The surge cost on Crush of Tentacles lets you leave an Octopus on the field after its main mass-bouncing text. Kiora, Master of the Depths has an ultimate that creates an emblem that makes your creatures fight upon ETB and pumps out three Octopuses for an immediate payoff.
Don’t make me explain stickers, but Astroquarium’s stickers matter for whether its activated ability turns something into a shark or an octopus. For more Un-set fun, Octo Opus gives you Contortionist, an octopus performer token that can be “folded” for extra cards when you sacrifice the enchantment.
And let’s pre-argue a little with the comment section: “Octopuses” is a perfectly fine plural for octopus. Octopodes is also fine. Octopi… sigh. Look, people used to think “octopi” was correct because octopus comes from Latin and it needs a Latin plural form, right? Wrong. Octopus actually comes from Greek, so pedants should be stumping for octopodes over octopi. Octopi is only correct because of how it’s used, kind of like how literally no longer means literally because literally nobody uses literally correctly. But I’m going to say octopuses because it’s also correct and it’s right down the middle. All on the same page?
Crafty Octopus from Unstable is a host creature, which means it can be augmented into a truly monstrous creation. It also assembles a contraption when it enters the battlefield, showing off two of the staple mechanics from this Un-set.
Listen. I’ve got the panorama art piece from the Journey into Nyx fat pack hanging in my living room (I prefer the Theros one with Elspeth on it, though). I’ve never sleeved up a Godhunter Octopus. A 6-mana 5/5 creature that’s only a blocker unless your opponent controls an enchantment relies too much on what others are doing.
Sealock Monster relies on either becoming monstrous or finding ways to get around its attack restriction. I thought of Stormtide Leviathan, but then you have to give the octopus islandwalk or flying (there’s an archetype for that). It’s fine when you don’t care about streamlining but certainly not all that competitive.
Tidal Terror is a bit underwhelming. The islandcycling is appreciated, but you have to tap your own creatures to make this unblockable. I could see it playing the role of some unblockable finisher in a deck with a bunch of tokens, but I feel like I’m stretching.
One of these days, the editors will let me write about sharks and that will make me a very happy person. In the meantime, I get to talk about a shark that’s also a crab that’s also an octopus. Sharktocrab’s +1/+1 counter synergies are fine for a Simic creature, and tapping an opponent’s creature when your Sharktocrab grows can work as a temporary shutdown. Unfortunately, it also takes away from the sea creature theme. You aren’t likely to run this in a deck with Kenessos, Priest of Thassa because Sharktocrab wants you to build in a totally different direction.
As equipment, Acquisition Octopus can be used alongside cards that care about modified or equipped creatures. A blue artifact that gets you card advantage feels extremely on-brand, but there’s another octopus that does something similar but better.
Mesmerizing Benthid can play with sea creatures as well as with illusions, but you can also make a neat infinite combo with it. Sacrifice Mesmerizing Benthid to Ashnod's Altar while Nim Deathmantle is on the battlefield with two open mana to get started. The Deathmantle can bring the Benthid back with the open mana you have and the cc mana produced by the Altar. The Benthid’s ETB creates two Illusion tokens, and you can sacrifice one of them to Ashnod’s Altar to float cc. You’re back at the start, except you’ve got an extra Illusion token, and Mesmerizing Benthid is equipped with Nim Deathmantle. So. Many. Triggers.
It’s an Eldrazi, but the blue in its emerge cost means that you can’t use it in a colorless Eldrazi Commander deck. Boo, hiss. But as an octopus? Elder Deep-Fiend’s pretty good. Flash lets you play it at any time that’s advantageous to you, whether you’re tapping down some attackers before they swing at you or bringing it out to tap down blockers.
Eights, eights, eights across the board! Lorthos, the Tidemaker can tap down a lot of potential blockers when it attacks, if you have the mana to pay for it of course. In the right deck, you’ll only have to pay the for the attack trigger.
Well, I already burned my eights-across-the-board joke. Octavia, Living Thesis is a mono-blue commander that can be heavily cost-reduced when you reach a threshold of eight instants and sorceries in your graveyard. Not hard for a mono-blue player to do. Its ward should help keep it around and making your little creatures big works well with Illusion and Bird tokens as well as smaller unblockable creatures.
Sea-Dasher Octopus is hands (and tentacles) down the best octopus in Magic. It’s at home in octopus and mutate-focused decks, but any evasive commander that splashes into blue and plans on attacking could use card advantage when it deals combat damage. Ivy, Gleeful Spellthief comes to mind, but there’s lots of potential elsewhere.
Octopuses have been included along with serpents, krakens, and leviathans in a “sea creatures” category that’s often been grouped together in rules text. I move that we start saying “deep-sea creatures,” because fish and sharks are never included, and merfolk only sometimes are. Wait, why aren’t squids on the list? Or nautili? Nah, that’s just being greedy. A four-type group is enough. I guess….
Kenessos, Priest of Thassa, Kiora, Sovereign of the Deep, and Runo Stromkirk / Krothuss, Lord of the Deep are all viable commanders for a sea creature build. Kenessos and Kiora are each in Simic colors, while Krothuss is in Dimir colors.
Slinn Voda, the Rising Deep is a legendary creature that bounces non-sea creatures when it enters the battlefield, but it’s probably better in the 99 of these other commanders than piloting its own mono-blue deck. You can get a similar mass bounce effect from Whelming Wave.
Quest for Ula's Temple is a 1-mana enchantment that can cheat your octopuses, etc. from your hand onto the battlefield. You need to pump it up with quest counters first, but it’s so cheap while your sea creatures are generally so mana-heavy.
Serpent of Yawning Depths from Theros Beyond Death makes your octopuses and their friends unblockable except by other octopuses and friends. Sounds like a strong card to me unless you’re playing a mirror match.
Apart from these specific payoffs, cards that care about playing big power, big toughness, or big mana spells can all take advantage of the larger octopuses. That’s more of a focused place where octopuses will be role-players rather than stars, but there are no small parts.
Wrap-Up (In Tentacles)
Elder Deep-Fiend | Illustration by Jason Felix
There aren’t even two dozen octopuses in Magic yet, but grouping them with serpents, krakens, and leviathans gives them a larger family than some other creatures get. My sharks are lonely, okay?
I wonder if we’ll ever get octopuses in Magic that fit the “elusive intellectual” mold rather than the “big, scary monster with lots and lots of arms” one. The sea creatures theme is probably the one that Magic designers will stick to for now, but imagine a Simic octopus teaching at Strixhaven or piloting some aquatic vessel.
Which is your favorite Magic octopus? What would you like to see from the creature type going forward? Do you want more big sea creatures, or would you rather sea a change? Let me know in the comments below or over on Draftsim’s Discord.
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