Flavor of the Month: Riddle Me This

Brandon Amico • December 30, 2023

What's White and Black and Blue All Over?

Welcome to Flavor of the Month, where we use cards' flavor as a recipe for building decks! Last month, I dove deep into a Nobel Prize-winning poet's most famous work to create a tribute in Commander deck form, but this time we're setting our sights fully in-universe once again. Let's have some fun! 


I love games. This might seem like an obvious statement to be published on a website that is dedicated to a game, part of the wide ecosystem that has arisen over the past thirty years surrounding Magic: The Gathering. Presumably, if you're reading this, you too like games, or at least one game in particular. This one.

Despite that, I do think it's a worthwhile sentiment to express here, because there's a difference between taking part in a game of some kind and actually being in touch with your sense of play that you had as a child. Playfulness is an oft-overlooked ingredient in any creative endeavor: you can always tell when a television show or movie is allowing itself to grow and experiment by playing around with new ideas and taking chances, and which are just overlaying their characters on formulaic guidelines or only looking to clear the lowest bars.

While not every such experiment will succeed, those who approach art with a sense of wonder and curiosity (read: play) will be the ones who gain a following more invested, appreciative, and lasting. And most importantly, those creators who do so will have a much better time as well. I say this from creative experience; I've often found my written works to resonate with others more when I lose the pretense of trying to create something specific I had in mind from the start, and instead let myself play in the space a little bit and be open to unexpected turns along the road to completion.

Magic is a hobby that offers an immense number of opportunities for creativity, and unlike most things in this world, it's not simply the creators who bring their creativity to the table, but the very people playing it. The ways we approach the game and express ourselves within it are some of the most satisfying aspects of Magic. The format and decks we choose to play. Our specific card choices, art and treatment selections, even the basic lands we include in our decks. Right down to the way we approach a given problem in-game or set about going through our deck's gameplan, tapping into our creative side allows us to explore more possibilities for fun while expressing ourselves in a way meaningful to us. 

So, why this spiel about games and play? Because I want to introduce one of my favorite types of cards that we're going to use to build a deck today, what I like to call "minigame" cards. That is, cards that put the actual game on hold for just a second and ask two players to interact in a new way. Maybe one player makes another decide which cards they'll draw (and politicking ratchets up a notch), or perhaps a player has to guess what's in the other one's hand. The most famous of these cards is Fact or Fiction, but we've gotten a few more over the years with variations on this theme.

As an aside, I think the first minigame card ever printed would technically be Shahrazad, but it's banned in Commander (and not just because it mentions ante: Commander games are long enough as is!), and its spiritual successors, like Enter the Dungeon, are all silver-bordered and were never legal in the first place.

These minigame cards add an additional wrinkle to the texture of a game, and to me they always feel like riddles in some way. Like whenever Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths triggers, it's natural that the person choosing the cards for each pile and which pile is face-down is trying to trick their opponent. They're presenting a riddle, and there is a right answer, but they're making you think sideways as you come at it. Trust me when I say there's no better feeling than putting a Cyclonic Rift and another spell in the face-up pile so that one's opponent thinks the face-down card must be really good to offer up a Rift in exchange only to have them select the facedown card and discover it was an Island.

So let's make a deck with a bunch of riddles in it! I want to see some unique interpersonal interactions happening.

Turns out, there are not a lot of great cards with actual riddles in the flavor text: we have Wall of Hope, Narcomoeba, and Sea God's Revenge, and those riddles are fun, but as far as deckbuilding goes, the mechanics do not spark joy. But, when searching for the word "riddle" in card names and flavor, something popped up quite often: Sphinxes! That makes sense. Sphinxes throughout mythology and popular culture are often depicted as guarding something, but instead of needing a key (or engage in a physical contest) to get past them, hopeful Sphinx-bypassers are asked a riddle. It makes sense that Sphinxes could play a significant part in our riddle-strewn stack of cards, so I'm on board.

Who can be the head of our Sphinx-and-riddle deck? Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign has everything we could want in a commander: three of the best colors we could want for a minigame-focused deck, an evasive and durable frame, plus riddles are part of her flavor! They're mentioned in her flavor text, and she's the Cryptic Sovereign! Being cryptic is the way that riddles work! 


Sphinxes tend to be large, mana-intensive creatures, so building a Sphinx deck means you're likely to have a glut of cards clogging up the upper tiers of your mana curve, but since Yennett's ability lets us sneak out five- and seven-mana Sphinxes and other high-mana cards routinely, so long as they're an odd mana cost, we can play a few more five+ spells than most decks would be able to handle. We'll also limit the six- and eight-mana Sphinxes in order to maximize the chances of hitting an odd-cost card (I say limit and not go without, since there's no way we're going without the strongest Sphinx card in Commander, Consecrated Sphinx). We'll also run a full suite of mana rocks to give us a way to deploy them without Yennett, who will be a lightning rod for removal.

Several of our creatures, like Sphinx of Clear Skies and Unesh, Criosphinx Sovereign, pull double flavor duty for us: Sphinxes with built-in minigames! Conundrum Sphinx is one of the best: a hard-to-come-by four-mana Sphinx (with a reasonable statline) with a little extra game that will pay off for us more often than our opponents thanks to our regular scrying activity. Scrying, after all, is a mechanical subtheme for many Sphinx cards, and we'll also throw in some old favorites, like Crystal Ball, to make sure we're pondering some kind of orb on the regular.

Scrying is also one of the best ways to make sure we have a juicy hit on top of our deck when Yennet goes to combat. Little did our moms know when they were telling us to stop playing around with our crystal balls and tea leaves that building up our scrying muscles would be worth it one day! In addition to scrying, we'll have cards that offer more control over what you put at the top of our library, like Brainstorm and Aminatou, the Fateshifter.

And we do have some big hits to tee up for Yennet. Sure, some of them are just more Sphinxes (though not a creature type known for combat, landing a couple of these huge fliers onto the battlefield will present a viable threat at many tables), but it'd also be a welcome sight to see In Garruk's Wake, Portal to Phyrexia, or Breach the Multiverse sitting atop our deck. Casting one of those haymakers for zero mana is a riddle that many opponents won't be able to solve quickly enough to survive.

As for other minigames-slash-riddles, we'll certainly include Fact or Fiction and our old pal Atris. As mentioned, a number of Sphinxes have variations of Fact or Fiction on their enters-the-battlefield or combat damage triggers, and some of them are joyfully weird, like Sphinx Ambassador. There are a few new additions to this subset of cards, like Hostile Negotiations and the popular Sauron's Ransom, and you'll find them here, too. 

I also want to call out Master of Predicaments for giving us the most fun minigame in the deck; if you've actually wanted to play a (nonlethal) version of the "Battle of Wits" scene from The Princess Bride, this is your chance.

Sphinxes are all about knowledge and learning, which are mechanically represented in-game by the act of drawing a card, and mechanically feasible in real life by something we call "reading a book." Many Sphinxes reference libraries, so while we're not busting out Library of Alexandria (in this economy?!), we can use the book Island from Jumpstart for our basics for that perfect thematic fit. The incredible Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges once said, "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library," and I concur.

As for finishing the game off, it's not hard for a handful of large fliers to hold down the battlefield and close out life totals. Given how many cards we'll have drawn (if you've never seen a Consecrated Sphinx sit on the table for a full turn cycle, just you wait, it's a thing of beauty) or cast off the top, we should have no difficulty putting down any opponents' attempts to win and protecting ourselves. We also have another out via Laboratory Maniac and similar effects; it's quite possible we'll draw through our whole deck very quickly and can just steal a win be rewarded for our endless pursuit of knowledge with a victory.


Finally, at the end of the winding riddle that is deck construction, we reach this solution:

Riddle Me This

View on Archidekt

Commander (1)
Creatures (32)
Artifacts (13)
Sorceries (6)
Instants (11)
Planeswalkers (1)
Enchantments (1)
Lands (35)

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View this decklist on Archidekt

That's it for this installment of Flavor of the Month! Sound off in the comments below or on Twitter/Bluesky/Threads/Messenger boards/The Pony Express and tell me what you think of this deck and if I missed any good "minigame" cards I should add in (I'm sure I did). Or just drop a good riddle in the comments. Please feel free to share and check out the other articles in this series (and across this site). Articles like these are all a labor of love, whether written by me or anyone else, so if you do enjoy them anything you can do to spread the word, even the smallest thing, goes a long way. Thanks, as always, for reading!

Brandon hosts the MTG Variety Hour (@mtgvarietyhour on TikTok, IG, and Twitter) and has been playing Magic since Odyssey back in 2001. When he's not slinging cardboard, he works as a freelance copywriter and is an accomplished poet with a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing fellowship. His literary work can be found at brandonamico.com.