In the Margins - Mortify

Mortify: To undergo tissue death or become gangrenous

Currently, there are 21,123 decks in the EDHREC database running Mortify and not a single one of them should have it as part of the 99.

Welcome to In the Margins, a bi-monthly series where I swipe left on the card choices you make for decks. Am I needlessly cruel? Maybe. But listen, if your Tinder profile has a selfie of you wearing a trilby you've mistaken for a fedora and a Big Bang Theory quote where you spelled the word 'science' then I don't need to check your decklist to see if you're still running Mortify.

It's okay though! All hope is not lost! We're here to rebuild you. We have the technology. Better. Stronger. Faster. Less hats.

First though, Mortify. Mortify burst onto the scene in February of 2006 in the Guildpact set as the other half of a similarly-named card, Putrefy, which was released just months before. It's been reprinted ten times since, including in multiple Commander precons, and even a printing as recent as January of 2019 in Ravnica Allegiance. During the early part of that run, the card was probably an absolute house.

Time, unfortunately, didn't stop in 2006. If it did, Will Smith's filmography would be way less embarrassing. No, the passage of time is the real monster at the end of this book. The years have brought us cards that are just generally better than Mortify and have displaced it from a slot in your deck, similar to how your step-siblings have displaced you from the loving place in your mother's heart. They're just better, more attractive people, and the love she has to give is finite. And yes, if you haven't caught on by now, I am in fact trying to mortify you in this article about Mortify.

I'll note here that there are non-power reasons to run Mortify. There's a creepy textless version that looks pretty great, though it makes it easy for people to forget whether the card hits artifacts or enchantments. That art's legit. Some people just like to run cards for nostalgic or flavor reasons, too, and I'll never argue with that. Lastly, some of the cards that have supplanted Mortify's spot in the Commander canon are priced north of $5, and it's sometimes easy to forget that such a price can be a decent amount of money for a piece of cardboard. If you like art, Ravnica-themed decks, or brew with a budget, then yes, run Mortify. If none of those reasons are why you're running it, though, you should fix that, and here're the cards that should probably take its place.

Anguish: Agonizing physical or mental pain; torment

Vindicate was a $20 dollar card not too many years ago, and even today the least expensive versions hover near $5. It's also a sorcery, so it's not a strictly better alternative. It does hit any target, though. Not just creatures and enchantments, but lands, artifacts and planeswalkers, at the exact same CMC. Destroying a land is the really important one to note, though being able to gank a planeswalker isn't nothing in the wake of War of the Spark. Important lands have cropped up all over the format, though, from Cabal Coffers to Kessig Wolf Run.

Once upon a time, Vindicate was a card you ran in conjunction with Mortify, but now? Now it's the competition, residing in 12,077 decks. The top commander on EDHREC running Mortify is Atraxa, Praetor's Voice with just under 2,000 decks, and of those decks, 1,743 are running Mortify and not running Vindicate. Is Vindicate a flatly better option than Mortify? Not necessarily, given the usefulness of removal at instant speed, but you should consider it as an option for one of your precious deck slots. Consider strongly which types of permanents you most often need to be able to remove, and when they need removing.

Anguished Unmaking is probably the closest card we have in terms of an apples-to-apples comparison. It's the exact same CMC, is also an instant, it exiles the target, and also hits planeswalkers and artifacts. That's a pretty huge upside at the cost of a mere three life in the two best lifegain colors in the game. Don't forget how important exiling is when compared to destruction, too; not only does it evade indestructibility, but Meren, Muldrotha, and Daretti can't revive things when they're sent beyond the grave.

It's currently in 26,426 decks on EDHREC. Three of the top five most popular commanders of all time are capable of running Anguished Unmaking: Atraxa, Breya, Etherium Shaper, and Oloro, Ageless Ascetic. Of those, 23% of Atraxa decks, 11% of Breya decks, and 16% of Oloro decks are running Mortify and not Anguished Unmaking. I'll note here that the Atraxa precon did come with Mortify in the list, which is probably why that number is higher. But the number should not be higher. Make the change.

Utter End is four mana vs three, and four mana is a lot for an instant-speed single-target removal spell. Frankly, three is a lot, too, but four is a lot lot. Still, it exiles anything that isn't a land, and it doesn't cost you life like Anguished Unmaking. So is it better than Mortify? Probably? There's no way to mathematically say that paying one more mana is worth being able to exile what you hit, and to also hit planeswalkers and enchantments, but for me personally, I think it is. If you draw a Mortify against an artifact player, you're in trouble, but if you draw an Utter End, you know you can deal with almost any problem, and you can deal with it in a way that's almost impossible for your opponent to recur.

Oblation: A religious offering, either as charity or to a god

Oblation is an old-school removal spell that flourished back when tuck was a thing, and has fallen off in recent years. Still, I'd be remiss not to at least mention it as an option, particularly since it can often be a secretly modular card; it does technically double as a draw spell if you're desperate, or have disposable tokens, or one of your creatures is about to die or get stolen. This Onslaught classic currently resides in 8,695 decks, and it shuffles away any nonland permanent, avoiding indestructibility, death triggers, and making recursion quite challenging. Yes, your opponent draws two cards, and that's not great, but it beats then doing whatever degenerate thing they were about to do that necessitated instant speed targeted removal. Plus, it can function as a white Costly Plunder in a pinch. At least file it away in the back of your mind as a potential option.

Despark is our newest addition to the list of cards that may make Mortify obsolete. It probably doesn't make the cut at the cEDH or near-cEDH level, as the average CMC of permanents tends to be too low to the ground in those cricles. Everywhere else, though? Here's what Despark hits off EDHREC's most popular of all time lists for each permanent type:

  • Commanders
    • 5 of the top 5
    • 9 of the top 10
    • 17 of the top 20
  • Creatures
    • 3 of the top 5
    • 62 of the top 100
  • Artifacts
    • 34 of the top 100
  • Enchantments
    • 45 of the top 100
  • Planeswalkers
    • 86 of the top 100

It also hits five of the Ixalan block's transform lands. Since a transform card's back has the same CMC as the front, and Despark doesn't say 'nonland', it can hit any of those Ixalan transform lands even after they've flipped if the front side cost four or more to cast. In this case, it can specifically exile Gold-Forged Garrison, Vault of Catlacan, Primal Wellspring, Conqueror's Foothold and Spitfire Bastion. That's not a reason to run it, but it's worth noting when considering making a move.

Plowshare: A steel wedge that cuts loose the top layer of soil

Path to Exile and Swords to Plowshares are the two cards that complicate things here. They aren't multi-purpose tools like all the cards listed above as they only hit creatures, but both are so efficiently costed and good at what they do that it's really, really hard to not run both in any deck that can, and that further limits the available slots for Mortify. Path is in 45,869 decks and Swords is in 79,524 and both those numbers are probably too low. Are black-white decks running Mortify also already running these? Yes. But can they afford to keep running Mortify for creature removal when they already have these two options, and the options above offer so much more versatility? No, probably not.

Opening up your colors further complicates things even more, and completely pushes Mortify down and down. In Abzan, Assassin's Trophy and Beast Within can hit any target at instant speed. Mardu adds Chaos Warp to the mix, and Esper brings in some Swords- and Path-esque single-target creature removal options like Pongify, Rapid Hybridization, and Reality Shift.

Conclusion: The close or last part; the end or finish

If you’re still running Mortify, odds are good that one of these options will work a little better for you, and over time, a bunch of little betters adds up to a lot better. There are just too many other options fighting for a finite amount of space. Mortify's flexibility is outdone by a lot of other cards, which means it's often relegated to a form of creature removal, and both black and white have better options in that slot. If you’ve got an argument for Mortify, though, I’d love to hear it. Leave a comment below and make your case, or just leave a compliment about how the masculine yet sensitive tone of my prose and rhetoric is making you question some very basic bio-mechanical truths about yourself you'd once considered long settled.

Until next time, I’m Dana and I’ll see you In the Margins.

Selenia Swapping

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Dana is one of the hosts of the EDHRECast and the CMDR Central podcast. He lives in Eau Claire, WI with his wife and son. He has been playing Magic so long he once traded away an Underground Sea for a Nightmare, and was so pleased with the deal he declined a trade-back the following week. He also smells like cotton candy and sunsets.

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