Last updated on May 13, 2024

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn - Illustration by Mark Tedin

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn | Illustration by Mark Tedin

Come one, come all! For this next trick, we’ll be putting a spin on the old classic. Instead of pulling a rabbit out of a hat, we’re putting it back in the hat! What’s going to come out in its place? Who knows!? It could be an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, or perhaps that Placid Rottentail will hop right back out. Why do we have both of those Magic cards in the same deck, you ask? A magician never divulges their secrets.

That’s right, today we’re polymorphing creatures in Magic: The Gathering. It’s the ultimate form of chaos, the type of manipulative trickery that gets all the Johnny’s going. Now let’s pull off a trick that’ll make Preston, the Vanisher sit down in astonishment!

What is a Polymorph Effect in MTG?

Empty the Laboratory - Illustration by Tuan Duong Chu

Empty the Laboratory | Illustration by Tuan Duong Chu

A polymorph effect removes a permanent from the battlefield and replaces it with a random permanent from its controller’s library, often a creature-for-creature swap. This MTG slang term comes from the original Polymorph card, and these effects are usually used in one of two ways: either as combo pieces trying to cheat game-winning creatures into play, or as chaos cards meant to add to the variance of a game. Or both, if you’re feeling adventurous.

There are quite a few slant-Polymorph effects out there, so I want to narrow down what qualifies for this list. In the spirit of the original Polymorph, two things must be true for a card to show up here:

#30. Blessed Reincarnation

Blessed Reincarnation

Blessed Reincarnation gets two thumbs down for only being able to target an opponent’s creature. The main point of polymorphing is to target your own stuff, and this blue instant wants you to pray and hope you deal with an opponent’s creature without flipping them into something even worse. Targeting opposing creatures is just gravy, but a polymorph that can’t hit your own creatures is a no-go.

#29. Reweave

Reweave

I’d never seen this arcane instant before but you’ll be reweaved to know it’s not something to care about. Reweave is an expensive Polymorph with splice onto arcane, which is a lot like an expensive Polymorph without splice onto arcane. Maybe this has a chance if we ever see more arcane support in the future.

#28. Dreamshaper Shaman

Dreamshaper Shaman

They played it pretty safe with Dreamshaper Shaman, which is fair considering it’s an uncommon. 6 mana, below-average stats, and the need to invest further chunks of mana to do anything with it are all reasons to avoid this enchantment creature, though I’ll admit it’s an aesthetically cool card. Being an enchantment is usually a downside unless your deck specifically cares about that, and red decks rarely do.

#27. Zoyowa’s Justice

Zoyowa's Justice

Zoyowa's Justice is set up so the owner of the shuffled permanent never gets anything more expensive than what they lost, so it’s fair in that regard. Almost too fair, since this red instant could just as easily replace your opponent’s permanent with something equally strong, or give you something weaker if you target your own stuff.

#26. Time Lord Regeneration

Time Lord Regeneration

A single mana for a polymorph effect is outrageous, but Time Lord Regeneration is limited in its application. It has to target a time lord, it only searches up another time lord, and the target has to die for any of this to work. It’s a doctor-for-doctor swap, though changelings butt their way in as they often do.

#25. Shape Anew

Shape Anew

Shape Anew is essentially Polymorph for artifacts, though it doesn’t directly destroy its target. It’s a fine way to sneak a Portal to Phyrexia into play, though you might just as easily flip into a Seat of the Synod if you’re not setting up your topdeck. This blue sorcery is a little better to aim at an opponent’s permanent, since people just have fewer game-winning artifacts than creatures on average.

#24. Warp World

Warp World

Depending on who you are, Warp World is either the most fun you can possibly have in Commander, or a complete mockery of any strategic element to the game. Everyone picks up all their permanents (lands included), and replaces them with random stuff. That usually results in one person having an immediately unbeatable board, two people who no longer have lands to cast spells, and one chaos agent rubbing their hands together and laughing hysterically.

#23. Chaotic Transformation

Chaotic Transformation

Chaotic Transformation asks the question: How many different twists can we put on a traditional polymorph effect? We swear, this red sorcery‘s different! It actually is, though it feels like all the rest of them.

Here you get to exile up to one of each permanent type (sorry, no battles), and their controllers see whether they hit the lottery or not. In some cases you might be able to snipe someone’s only planeswalker or artifact, and it’ll usually answer a problematic utility land. Still, it’s expensive and random, so play at your own risk. Also, it apparently can hit enchantments? There’s a bit of an identity crisis on which red polymorphs can and can’t do that.

#22. Jalira, Master Polymorphist

Jalira, Master Polymorphist

If the name Jalira, Master Polymorphist wasn’t a dead giveaway, Jalira polymorphs… masterly. Only your creatures this time, and only non-legendaries for some reason. That and the 2/2 body on a 4-drop with an expensive tap ability is all adding up to a blue creature I’d caution against even trying. Honestly, straight-up Polymorph is probably more reliable than this wizard most games.

#21. Proteus Staff

Proteus Staff

Proteus Staff provides janky on-demand polymorphs at sorcery speed. Due to some awkward wording, you can actually use this in a deck with no creature cards to stack your library in any order. The trick is just getting a creature on board, which is easy to achieve with noncreature token generators.

#20. Mass Polymorph

Mass Polymorph

Hmm… Mass Polymorph, wonder what that does. Turns out it’s Polymorph, but, like, mass. 6 mana for a sorcery that takes additional set-up is a big “nope” for me, but I’m not here to yuck anyone’s yum.

#19. Collision of Realms

Collision of Realms

Collision of Realms shuffles away all creatures, then leaves each player with one random creature from their library. That puts it closer to something like Single Combat than Warp World, which I’m sure is a sigh of relief for many players. 7 mana for a red sweeper that still leaves material on board is a tough sell though.

#18. Wild Magic Surge

Wild Magic Surge

I’m not sold on Wild Magic Surge, but people much smarter than myself tell me it’s cEDH-playable. Not sure why, but in casual settings it’s just not worth a slot in your deck unless you’re desperate for more interaction. Unlike Chaos Warp, this red instant never misses and can’t target your own permanents, which are both meaningful downgrades, even if Surge is a mana cheaper to cast.

#17. Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast

Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast

Lukka what we have here. Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast has a Transmogrify ability as their -2, and it’s cool that it searches up a more expensive creature than the one you targeted. There are some other abilities here but the overall package is dead-average, and the decks interested in a polymorph ability don’t care much about the other abilities this red planeswalker has to offer.

#16. Polymorph

Polymorph

The card that gave us the name. At 4 mana, Polymorph never feels like you’re getting away with that much, but it’s got the fun factor going for it. There are much better versions of this blue sorcery now, so there’s not a lot of reason to play it unless you just want critical mass of this effect, or if you just enjoy the goofy rabbit art.

#15. Transmogrify

Transmogrify

Transmogrify is basically a color-shifted Polymorph, with the only real difference being that it exiles instead of destroys. You can find this red sorcery sometimes cheating Agent of Treachery into play in Pioneer, and there are Commander decks that want it, but it’s not the type of thing you run without a deliberate plan.

#14. Audacious Reshapers

Audacious Reshapers

Audacious Reshapers condenses Madcap Experiment down to an activated ability, but it requires a sacrifice, so I’m counting this red creature on the list. You can cash in Treasure tokens or other trinkets for random artifacts from your deck, though you might take a chunk of damage in the exchange. Alternatively, you can run Platinum Emperion as the only artifact in your deck and guarantee you hit it every time without taking damage.

#13. Kethek, Crucible Goliath

Kethek, Crucible Goliath

Kethek, Crucible Goliath reads like a strange card. Sacrifice creatures and dig for creatures with lesser mana value… why would you want to do that? Well, steal-and-sac is always an option, but you can also make good use of cost-reduction creatures with high mana values. Hollow Marauder and Death-Rattle Oni come to mind.

#12. Shifting Shadow

Shifting Shadow

Shifting Shadow comes from the Shadow Puppeteers school of logic where simply making a big shadow somehow makes you a much more imposing threat. Not how it works, Magic!

Anyway, this aura’s kind of neat; you can polymorph away the enchanted creature, which will then become enchanted with Shifting Shadow and cycle away into something else the following turn. Or you can slap this on an opponent’s creature and watch them tag out creatures every upkeep.

#11. Descendants' Fury

Descendants' Fury

Now here’s an awesome typal payoff. Connect with creatures in combat, then poof them out of existence and replace them with a random creature of the same type. Descendants' Fury is great in big-creature typal decks that have a few cheap support cards of that type, and it really makes me want to brew a janky phoenix deck.

#10. Synthetic Destiny

Synthetic Destiny

I already poo-poo’d Mass Polymorph, but Synthetic Destiny has two things going for it. It’s an instant, which is a massive upgrade on these sorts of effects. It also waits until the next end step to put the new creatures into play, which means you can fire this off in response to a board wipe without your new team of creatures getting caught up in the effect.

#9. Divergent Transformations

Divergent Transformations

Undaunted is a cool multiplayer mechanic I wish they’d explore more, which is probably why I’m fond of Divergent Transformations. I’m not urging people to jam it in every red deck, but if you care about casting expensive spells, run a commander like Feather, the Redeemed, or you’re just embracing the chaos, a double Chaos Warp for [usually] 4 mana is kinda sweet.

#8. Reality Scramble

Reality Scramble

I like my reality like I like my eggs: sunny-side up. I know that’s a missed opportunity for the obvious joke, but I must not tell lies.

Reality Scramble lets you trade out a permanent you control for a random permanent of the same type. It’s a 1:1 swap, so no swapping out a land for Blightsteel Colossus, though I suppose you could fool around with artifact lands if that’s your goal. Retrace makes this an interesting card for multiple strategies, such as ones that play lands from the graveyard, cast-from-exile decks, and even the occasional spellslinger strategy.

#7. Glimpse of Tomorrow

Glimpse of Tomorrow

Warp World-lite. Glimpse of Tomorrow only affects your side of the board, which makes it less of a chaos card and more of a strategic build-around. This sorcery saw some play in Modern for a bit, though that’s owing to the fact that these 0-mana suspend cards are almost always broken with cascade spells.

#6. Audacious Swap

Audacious Swap

Audacious Swap is one of many “fixed” Chaos Warps, making up for the fact that it can’t target enchantments with a casualty ability that lets you copy it. This red instant's a lot riskier to fire off on your opponents’ stuff since they can cast instants and sorceries revealed during the swap, so maybe save it for decks where you’re trying to get fancy with your own spells.

#5. Chaos Mutation

Chaos Mutation

Is there any name more polymorphic than Chaos Mutation? This is a quirky Izzet version of the effect, giving you full control over what gets exiled, and all at instant speed. You can choose up to one creature from each player, yourself included, and roll the dice on what pops out. Instant’s a game-changer here, since it can remove a large attacker coming your way.

#4. Empty the Laboratory

Empty the Laboratory

Empty the Laboratory is a very cool zombie-centric mass-polymorph effect, and also what happens when science class is dismissed for the day. Zombie decks are great at flooding the board with tokens, and this spell upgrades all those shambling 2/2s into random zombies from your deck. It’s a legitimate wincon all its own with the likes of cards like Corpse Knight, Wayward Servant, and Gray Merchant of Asphodel in your deck.

#3. Chaos Warp

Chaos Warp

You could argue that Chaos Warp and similar effects don’t really belong on this list, since they have the chance of whiffing and not replacing the card they remove. But I think it fits the spirit of the criteria, so here it is. It’s an overrated Commander staple, though it does fill a removal niche that red decks are severely missing, giving those decks an out to problematic enchantments. Plus it’s just fun to cast.

#2. Fireflux Squad

Fireflux Squad

Fireflux Squad encourages two different lines of play. You can either throw away token creatures to flip into your next big threat, or you can steal opposing creatures with Threaten effects and swap them out for a creature of your own. If your goal is polymorphing your own creatures, I urge you to try this red human soldier.

#1. Indomitable Creativity

Indomitable Creativity

Indomitable Creativity jumped from bulk-bin filler to one of the best X spells and Pro Tour winning combo piece out of nowhere. Modern “Creativity” decks employ a typical polymorph strategy: They play nothing but giant creatures in the mainboard (Atraxa, Grand Unifier, Archon of Cruelty), and use token generators like Dwarven Mine, Khalni Garden, and Treasure to generate fodder for Creativity.

Best Polymorph Payoffs

Polymorph effects create their own breed of decks. Their main use is in decks that are trying to cheat some imposing, game-ending threat into play, whether that’s Blightsteel Colossus, Griselbrand, or Atraxa, Grand Unifier. These decks usually play no other creature cards besides their desired polymorph targets, using tokens to get creatures into play.

Threaten

Polymorph effects can also be an interesting alternative to a steal-and-sac strategy. Steal-and-morph, I suppose. These decks employ Threaten effects, and look to sacrifice the stolen creatures for value before handing them back. You could substitute the sacrifice effect with a polymorph effect and benefit from stealing your opponent’s creature. Be careful though, polymorph effects sometimes specify that the owner of the targeted permanent gets to put something into play, not the controller.

Grafdigger's Cage

You could also get cheeky and combine polymorph effects with stax effects to just upgrade them into removal. For example, you could run Grafdigger's Cage alongside traditional polymorph effects to dispose of creatures while preventing the replacement from entering play. I’m not sure why you’d go to the trouble instead of just playing hard removal, but I’m sure someone’s out there doing it.

Best Creatures and Artifacts for Polymorphs

Some of the most popular polymorph targets include: Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, Atraxa, Grand Unifier, Archon of Cruelty, Griselbrand, and Agent of Treachery in Pioneer.

In terms of artifacts, Blightsteel Colossus tends to be the number one polymorph target from effects like Audacious Reshapers. Portal to Phyrexia and Bolas's Citadel are equally powerful, often considered good “Tinker” targets. Tinker doesn’t technically count as a polymorph effect since it tutors a specific card instead of something at random.

Honestly, if you’re just goofing off and embracing the chaos of these cards in Commander, I find it hilarious to run a copy of Leveler or Phage the Untouchable if the plan is to polymorph yourself. I mean, don’t do that if you’re seriously trying to win, but it does add a lot of tension to your random flips, and it makes for some fun story moments.

Are There Any Mass Polymorph Cards?

I mean, there’s literally a card called Mass Polymorph, so safe to say yes. Cards like Synthetic Destiny and Indomitable Creativity can be considered mass polymorphs, though some only work for your creatures, some for your opponents’, and some don’t discriminate at all.

What if There’s Nothing Left in Your Deck to Polymorph Into?

Sucks to be you.

If your polymorph effect resolves and there’s nothing left that fits the criteria you’re looking for, you’ll usually just whiff on the effect, but still lose your creature. For example, Polymorph destroys its target no matter what, but if there’s no creature cards left in that controller’s library, they just don’t get anything.

Oftentimes this results in revealing your entire library, then shuffling it without getting a creature. In the case of Proteus Staff, this actually results in rearranging your entire library how you wish. Similarly, some cards end up revealing the top card of your library instead of exiling until they hit a card. It’s possible for a Chaos Warp to shuffle away a creature, then reveal an instant or sorcery on top, in which case nothing comes into play. In my experience though, the top card is usually Zetalpa, Primal Dawn. Sucks to be me, I guess.

Decklist: Indomitable Creativity in Pioneer

Indomitable Creativity - Illustration by Deruchenko Alexander

Indomitable Creativity | Illustration by Deruchenko Alexander

Here we have Reid Duke’s first-place Pioneer deck from Pro Tour Phyrexia in 2023. This is a polymorph combo deck through-and-through, using Indomitable Creativity as the linchpin card. You’ll notice the only two creatures in the deck are Xenagos, God of Revels and Worldspine Wurm, which together produce a 30-point attack with trample.

The deck has a primary gameplan but much more going for it. First, it’s very consistent, using tons of token-makers like Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Shark Typhoon to produce Creativity fodder. These cards are also just generically powerful on their own, which means the deck can revert to a normal controlling-beatdown plan if need be.

Second, you’ll find a stranger-than-normal suite of spells here, with Fire Prophecy and Valakut Awakening giving the deck ways to tuck one of the key creatures back into the library. Polymorph decks have an inherent weakness that if they draw their key creatures, they often can’t cast them, and they no longer have their important targets in the deck for something like Creativity. The Yu-Gi-Oh! card game uses the term “Garnet” to describe a card you want in your deck, but never want to draw, and Xenagos/Wurm are certainly Magic Garnets in this deck.

Wrap Up

Reality Scramble - Illustration by Simon Dominic

Reality Scramble | Illustration by Simon Dominic

Hey everyone, it’s Bob the intern here. Tim was writing this article, but someone polymorphed him and, well, I’m what popped out. He wishes you all the best of luck, and says: “May you never draw your Polymorph targets.”

I’m sure if he was still with us, he’d like to thank you for reading, and ask something along the lines of: “Did I miss any polymorph effects in Magic?” If he did, be sure to let him know in the comments below or over in the Draftsim Discord or on Draftsim's Twitter/X.

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