Magic, But Cheaper: Jeskai Transmogrify

Jeskai Transmogrify is a value-based midrange deck that looks to keep the board relatively clear while setting up, then outclass opposing threats by using its namesake to turn an innocuous token into a tremendous creature that swings the game wildly in our favor. ServoToken presents a budget version of the deck here.

Walls into Thieves

Every time I open up Youtube, I can be sure that i’ll see at least one suggestion for a Penn and Teller video. This is due to the simple fact that exactly one time eight years ago, while searching for a deck tech from AjemanCinnajob for Dega Midrange (which is a very old-fashioned thing to do), I made the mistake of typing in “Magic deck tech” instead of “MTG Deck Tech”. Ever since that day, I am recommended card tricks and street magic on the regular. Annoying as that may be, that’s not the magic we’re here to talk about today. In this article, we’re going even more old school, talking about an even more traditional magikal word. Let’s turn some walls into dragons and thieves; let’s talk Transmogrify.

The Deck

Jeskai Transmogrify is a value-based midrange deck that looks to keep the board relatively clear while setting up, then outclass opposing threats by using its namesake to turn an innocuous token into a tremendous creature that swings the game wildly in our favor. The deck utilizes the powerful mana advantage provided by Fires of Invention to effectively double its mana, and swiftly outpace any deck trying to play along a typical curve. The main power in this deck comes from its ability to flip a game state into a complete 180 at the drop of a hat.

The Setup

This deck starts as many other blue midrange piles do, on a small stack of card advantage spells and removal. Because we’re playing Yorion, the Sky Nomad, we’re looking to take advantage of the myriad of enchantment based value generation that Pioneer has to offer. The Omen cycle from Theros helps to quickly establish our hand and board while eventually acting as a mana sink when we’ve finally landed a Fires. Raven’s Warning and The Birth of Meletis likewise offer some basic stabilization on a permanent card that sticks around to be blinked, while also providing the tokens that we’ll need for our late game finisher. In the land of non-permanents, we are packing a fair suite of cheap sweepers in Anger of the Gods, Deafening Clarion, and Shatter the Sky to help keep the board clear and prevent our early demise. 

The Second Stage

Once we survive the early-turn aggression, we are generally free to start setting up our value plan. This is where our pack of planeswalkers comes in, allowing us the opportunity to gain incremental advantage that stacks on top of itself while simultaneously acting as win conditions in and of themselves. Gideon establishes a quick clock, providing tokens for our transmogrification and a difficult-to-deal-with 5/5 indestructible creature threat, while Nahiri furthers our removal suite, smooths our draws, and pretends to be additional copies of Transmogrify when she ultimates. Meanwhile, Lukka is here strictly as a fifth copy of our namesake card and Narset is here just to hose the S-Tier blue decks of the format while digging us a bit deeper through our 80-card main deck.

Another tool that we have access to is Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, which really just does everything this deck is looking to be accomplishing and I wish that we had the room to run the full playset. Creating tokens, filtering the hand, and copying value creatures makes Fable an absolutely insane addition to the deck and archetype, making us just another step on Fable’s stairway to stapledom. Eagle-eyed readers may note that this deck has a tremendously high curve with all of these three and four-drops. As mentioned earlier, the real power in this deck comes from the card Fires of Invention, which allows us to effectively jump from four to eight mana in one turn by casting two of these thicc spells without paying their mana cost. With Fires in play, we’ve effectively cut the mana curve of the deck in half, so there’s no need to worry about not being able to run everything out on time.

The Payoffs

The top end for Jeskai Fires is a small suite of creatures that when they enter play, change the course of the game wildly. Agent of Treachery is the traditional slot-filler for non-budget versions of this archetype, being able to come down and immediately steal the best permanent that the opponent has in play is absolutely back breaking in terms of tempo, and frequently demoralizing enough to elicit a concession on the spot. We’re also packing two threats that lean harder into absolutely crushing the spirit of aggressive players in Drakuseth, Maw of Flame and Stormtide Leviathan. Both creatures are large bodies that end the game in only a couple of turns after they come down while inhibiting creature strategies in some fashion. Drakuseth acts as additional removal, sweeping away up to three things while also giving the option to crack the opponent in the face with burn damage. Stormtide on the other hand really slows things down with its ability to completely lock combat outside of the matchups where flying creatures are involved. These creatures each fill their own niche roles in the meta game and can completely obliterate an opposing army with ease.

The Lands

I always enjoy building wedge-colored budget decks because the mana is just so easy. Having access to trilands to smooth out colors and all of the pain lands to make sure that things are played on curve is absolutely ideal. In this case, the scry lands also pull a surprising amount of weight, digging even deeper into this 80 card monstrosity to find the pieces we need in a timely manner. The deck also benefits from lands that have additional abilities that require payment, as they give us additional avenues to spend mana that would otherwise be left untapped thanks to Fires. Irrigated Farmland, as well as some of the channel lands from Kamigawa act as spells in this deck that bypass the two-spell restriction we’re usually locked under. All in all, i’m very pleased with how the mana shakes out in this list. I’m yet to experience color screw, and proper sequencing ensures that spells can be played on time with ease.

How does it play?

I feel as though this deck is an excellent reflection of its non-budget self. The play patterns are extremely similar, the win conditions feel just as brutal, and the deck on the whole is just as completely demoralizing to play against. In the 10 rounds that I took the list through, I ended up at 6-3-1, taking out a reasonable number of creature based aggro brews and losing to some of the top dogs of the format. I count the draw because there was a game where I timed out due to an opponent not conceding to a Fable / Agent lock, which would have resulted in a win in paper but MTGO is a cruel mistress and we’ve got to play by the rules of the game we’re playing. The deck is extremely strong when it comes to beating decks that struggle to recover after a board wipe or decks that can’t handle repetitive value generation. Cheating out the big creatures early in the game won a good number of games, but maybe 40% of my wins were thanks to Fable, Yorion,  and Gideon beats. The deck feels quite cohesive and synergistic for the price, and the upgrade path is extremely solidly laid out already. The archetype in general isn’t extremely popular in the format at the moment, but there was a time in pioneer’s not-so-distant past that Fires was a legitimate A-Tier strategy and I don’t doubt that the deck can reach that point again. It’s certainly strong enough to clear the field at your local level with a good amount of practice. 

The Wrap-Up

Jeskai Transmogrify is a fun, out of the ordinary deck that offers lines of thinking that most other decks don’t. It’s a difficult deck to prepare for thanks to its multiple axis of attack, and its high levels of synergy make it a blast to play. It may not be the strongest thing you’ll ever pilot, but the simplicity of its design mixed with the sheer power of its nut draws make for an absolute blast of a play experience. I highly recommend this archetype and list for someone looking for something just a little bit different.

That’s all for this one! If you’re enjoying the series and the site, feel free to let us know on any of our social channels about your thoughts and feelings on the stuff we write!

As always: stay safe, play smart, and thanks for reading.


  • Darren "ServoToken"


    ServoToken has been playing competitive magic since 2011, spending a majority of that time living in the shoes of a player on a strict budget. After investing a lot of time learning how to make the best of a bad situation, his goals today are to spread those lessons to the often-ignored population of Magic players who can’t afford to drop a car payment on a new deck every couple of months. His mantra is that “You don’t need to play mono-red to do well on a budget”. These days, you can typically find him deep in the archives of Scryfall searching for new cards to brew around or making tweaks to the Pioneer Budget deck spreadsheet on his unending mission to bring his favorite format to the people on the cheap.

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  1. I’d suggest having the full version of the deck somewhere in an article like this – either showing the recommended upgrade path from budget to full or just making it clear what pieces you’ve replaced with what.

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