Vannifar, Evolved Enigma - Plot Twist #1

Jeff Girten • February 6, 2024

Vannifar, Evolved Enigma by 

Welcome to Plot Twist, the new article series where I build a Commander deck that starts out telling one kind of story only to throw out a plot twist mid-game. I'm Jeff Girten, and I've been playing Magic: The Gathering since you could buy (gulp!) Stronghold booster packs for $3 and Commander since War of the Spark. Today, I'm taking a brand new commander, Vannifar, Evolved Enigma, and giving it a surprising twist with some super secret tech from Magic's past.

Part of what draws me to Commander is that games develop fascinating storylines in ways that 1v1 formats traditionally don't. How many times have you destroyed an opponent's commander when they started getting cheeky, only to watch them thwart your win attempt at the last possible moment in revenge? Have you ever left an opponent alive so their deck has a chance to 'do the thing' only to watch them become a massive threat just a couple of turns later? These types of storylines are what make memorable games of Commander, ones filled with plot twists and surprise endings. 

While a good portion of the 'story' in a game of Commander comes from our opponents' decisions, the table politics, and the luck of the draw, we can create interesting stories through our deckbuilding decisions as well. That's what ultimately inspired me to start writing this series and bring you today's decklist helmed by the new Vannifar, Evolved Enigma from Murders at Karlov Manor.

How does Vannifar work?

This version of Vannifar offers us a choice between cloaking a card from our hand or placing a +1/+1 counter on each colorless creature we control at the start of combat on our turn. Cloak lets us put a card from our hand face down on the board and makes it a colorless, typeless 2/2 "mysterious creature" with ward 2 that we can turn face up at any time by paying its mana cost. It's important to note that Vanifar's ability doesn't require the card we cloak to be a creature or permanent, so if we're getting flooded with lands, we can turn them into extra 2/2 creatures. However, we can only turn creature cards that have been cloaked this way face-up.

What Does This Have to do with Morph, Jeff?

If these face-down, cloaked creatures sound familiar, it's because they're similar to the morph mechanic that's popped up several times throughout Magic's history, though there are cards all the way back from Alpha that reference placing cards face-down (Seriously, Illusionary Mask and Gustha's Scepter are just plain weird cards), the mechanic really came to the forefront with the introduction of morph in 2002's Odyssey Block. That might be taking too rosy of a view though, because morph has mostly been a mechanic for Limited rather than constructed formats. Face-down cards reappeared briefly in Time Spiral block and came back with gusto in 2014's Khans of Tarkir block. Morph adds a lot of fun to games because each morph creature becomes a piece of hidden information that's staring your opponents in the face. For all morph's fun in Limited formats, though, it's never really made a splash in Commander...until now.

Doing the Twist

When we sit down across from our opponents, it might be the first time they've seen Vannifar, Evolved Enigma. Initially, it reads like a strange colorless-matters commander but with access to both blue and green. Perhaps they'll focus on the +1/+1 counters and assume this is some sort of proliferate deck, or maybe they'll think that we opened a Vannifar in our prerelease kit and just stuck it at the helm of 99 other random draft cards.

This is the moment when we hit our opponents with the plot twist: using Vannifar's ability to sneak creatures into play and then leave our opponents guessing if they're morphs or something much worse.

Here's the full decklist for you to peruse:

Is it a Morph...or Something Worse? with Vannifar, Evolved Enigma

View on Archidekt

Commander (1)
Creatures (48)
Lands (37)
Enchantments (5)
Artifacts (4)
Sorceries (3)
Instants (2)

View this decklist on Archidekt


Since Cloak allows us to turn the creature face-up at any time, we're going to have a little fun with our opponents by not flipping our creatures over until after blockers are declared. We're running Dolmen Gate; Herald of Secret Streams, Ohran Frostfang and Saryth, the Viper's Fang to discourage our opponents from blocking our Cloaked creatures.

This lets us take advantage of Vannifar's second ability by putting +1/+1 counters on any Cloaked/Morphed creatures we already have in play. Since flipping creatures face up doesn't cause them to change zones, they keep any +1/+1 counters we've placed on them.

Using Vannifar to make Morph busted

When Vanifar lets us place any card in our hand face down as a Cloaked creature, it lets us cheat on the three mana we'd normally have to pay to Cloak/Morph a creature. That makes creatures like Brine Elemental, Den Protector, Fathom Seer, Icefeather Aven, Thousand Winds, Voidmage Apprentice, and Willbender much stronger than normal in combination with the Cloak ability. Cloak allows us to pay the creature's mana cost to turn them up, which is often much cheaper than their Morph cost, but we'll still get the effect generated by turning them face up. So we're saving mana both on the original cost of putting them into play face down AND on turning them face up.

We also have cards like Deathmist Raptor, Salt Road Ambushers and Trail of Mystery that trigger whenever any of our creatures, even our non-Morph creatures, are turned face up which can lead to a steady stream of value. Ixidor, Reality Sculptor ties the Morph theme together, because Ixidor not only further buffs our face down creatures but lets us flip all of them face up for only three mana. Ugin's Mastery is another interesting card that lets us cheat the Cloak costs of our creatures as long as we have at least six total power of attackers. We've even got Ixidron (a truly strange card) that can help us turn all creatures face down if we want to rebuy any of our Morph effects.

Let's throw in a few surprises for our opponents...

Of course, we want to throw in a plot twist and keep our opponents guessing about what we're attacking them with, so this deck is also packed with creatures that have abilities that trigger on combat damage like Ancient Silver Dragon, Old Gnawbone, Spawning Kraken, and Blightsteel Colossus. We can surprise our opponents by flipping one of these surprise creatures up at the right time, turning what they thought was another Morph creature into a huge threat. 

We also have a few creatures that don't have on-damage abilities, but will still surprise our opponents when we turn them face up: Aggressive Mammoth, Siege Behemoth, Surrak and Goreclaw, Vorinclex and Wurmcoil Engine all hit quite a bit harder than a lowly Cloak creature if they manage to sneak through. 

What do you mean +1/+1 counters are busted?

Vannifar also gives us the ability to put a +1/+1 counter on each of our colorless creatures at the start of combat, so we're also running Omarthis, Ghostfire Initiate, The Ozolith, Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider, and a few other cards that will help us multiply those counters quickly. I particularly love these in combination with Hangarback Walker, Walking Ballista and Omarthis itself since you can flip all three face up for zero mana thanks to how Cloak works. If Hangarback Walker dies, it even makes more colorless 1/1 fliers for Vannifar to pump on our next turn.

We'll want to make sure we get some +1/+1 counters on our creatures before overextending our board because a lot of our interactive spells, like Inspiring Call, Ripples of Potential, and Wave Goodbye, can completely flip the script on our opponents if we use them at the right time.

A few extra twists for good measure

I love a deck that runs some oddball cards that don't really see a lot of play in Commander but will create interesting stories when we cast them. 

Brine Elemental is known for being part of the 'Pickles' combo to keep your opponents from untapping with Vesuvan Shapeshifter, but both are played in less than 2% of possible decks on EDHREC. Deepfathom Skulker not only lets us draw when our creatures connect, but can let any of our cloaked creatures get through unblocked and allow us to flip them before damage. If Cephalid Constable gets a few +1/+1 counters on it (or is buffed some other way) and connects for combat damage, it can potentially bounce our opponent's entire board. Kami of Whispered Hopes and Sakiko, Mother of Summer can both make massive amounts of mana to flip our cloaked creatures in the right situation. And, of course, Simic Ascendancy can occasionally just win us the game for doing the +1/+1 counters thing our deck wanted to do anyways.

Roll the Credits

I hope you enjoyed reading my twisty story featuring Vannifar, Evolved Enigma. Next time you sit down for a game of Commander, see what sort of plot twists you can add to take the game's narrative in a new direction.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's deck and what cards could find a home in it in the comments below or on Archidekt. The Maybeboards of my decklists are always filled with cards I thought could work but didn't make the final decklist. You can find me on Instagram at @girtenjeff and you can see my other brews and what decks I'm currently playing here

Stay tuned to see what other twists and turns are headed your way in the next edition of Plot Twist.